By Kat Galea
Over 80,000 houses are suspected to be lying empty across Melbourne while 35,000 languish on the Victorian public housing waiting list. A report released in December last year by Prosper Australia estimated occupancy rates by gauging water usage and found that 82,724 properties appeared to be unused. This is more than enough to house the homeless and then some.
When we think about homelessness, the image of those sleeping on the streets is probably the first that comes to mind. However, these people represent about only 6-7% of the approximately 100,000 Australians that are homeless. The other 93,000 – the “hidden homeless” – are mostly in transient housing or sleeping on people’s couches.
The fact that there are so many houses left empty, largely owned by property speculators, while our most vulnerable are left out in the cold is a disgrace. The wilful misrepresentation of homeless people by media outlets like the Herald Sun is similar to the way they treat those on welfare. By demonising the most vulnerable, painting them as different to the rest of us, those in power are hoping to divide us and distract us from the real villains in society.
People do not choose to become homeless. Fleeing a violent home environment is the single biggest cause of homelessness. LGBTIQ youth and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are overrepresented in the numbers of those experiencing homelessness.
Paying for a roof over our heads is the single biggest cost ordinary people have. Renters are being held to ransom by private landlords while millennials have next to no chance of owning a house thanks to exorbitant prices. This year, of the 75,410 rental properties surveyed across Australia, just 21 were affordable for a single person on Newstart and just 121 for a single person on Newstart with one child.
The best way to deal with homelessness is to invest in public housing. It would actually be less burdensome to the economy if people had access to a stable home, as this would reduce the likelihood of people acquiring health problems or getting involved in petty crime. A world first study by Swinburne University earlier this year found that youth homelessness alone costs the state an unnecessary $626 million!
Measures like negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount prioritise investors before the wellbeing of ordinary people. Figures show that those who benefit most from negative gearing are the rich, and those with numerous properties. The looming changes to superannuation are also bound to result in more investors putting their money into the already inflated property market.
None of the major parties have any genuine plans to resolve the housing crisis and deal with increasing homelessness but if put under pressure they could be forced to take action. The occupations of the empty houses on Bendigo Street in Collingwood and of City Square in the CBD are great starts and are an indication that the situation is becoming too much for people to bear.
In order to really force the hand of the major parties however these campaigns need to become broader. There is anger under the surface in society as millions of people are suffering from housing stress. There is scope for community groups and trade unions to come together to demand that governments invest in public housing as a way to create jobs and deal with a social need.
If won such reforms would bring immediate relief to tens of thousands of people and would save lives. However, while the expansion of public housing is urgently required, that alone will not be enough to resolve the housing crisis. Ultimately it is the profit motive that lies at the heart of issues related to housing. That motive needs to be removed and we need to see housing as a basic right rather than a commodity.
Only a socialist society based on human need rather than private profit could ensure that a job, a home, and basic services are afforded to all.
The Socialist Party says:
-End tax incentives for property speculators
-Nationalise the banks and major construction companies
-Invest in public housing to create jobs and eliminate homelessness
-Implement rent control measures and strict oversight of landlords
-Remove the profit motive and make housing a basic right for all