I thank the member for Higgins for bringing this debate to the House. When people think of Goldstein they think of wealthy bayside suburbs, but homelessness, like violence against women, is not determined by postcode. I hear currently that there are women sleeping in their cars in the car parks of Bayside, alongside major parkland in the electorate and in the car parks of our supermarkets. Research shows that most older women who are homeless had never been homeless before. As a social worker Jennifer McVeigh, who works in the homelessness sector in Melbourne, says: They are not the rough sleepers seen sleeping on the streets but are the invisible homeless who are couch surfing or sleeping in cars. Just last week I spoke to one such woman who was sitting on the cement outside Woolworths in Hampton. She told me she has been couch surfing for a year. Property market analyst PropTrack reported that, in February 2023, only 17 per cent of all rentals listed on realestate.com.au across Australia were for properties priced at $400 or less per week.
Three years ago, 43 per cent of properties were listed for this price. The standard calculation for rental affordability is 30 per cent of income. Anglicare took a snapshot of 45,985 national listings on realestate.com.au over the weekend of 17 March 2023 and found that only 162 of the properties were affordable for a single person on the age pension, that a single person on the minimum wage could afford only 345 of these properties and that a person on JobSeeker could afford only four of these properties. In Australia there are currently more than 172,000 women over the age of 50 on JobSeeker. None of them could afford private rental—I repeat: none of them could afford private rental. The Victorian government is considering new rent controls, but the Real Estate Institute of Victoria says that this would lead to a loss of rental properties. These approaches need to be carefully calibrated in order not to create a new problem.
Meanwhile, the number of people on the social housing waitlist in Victoria has increased from 35,392 in 2017 to 54,945 today. However, there’s a growing cohort of older women who don’t meet the eligibility criteria for social housing because they do have some money in savings. The government’s new $2 billion Social Housing Accelerator, which aims to create thousands of homes for people on social housing waiting lists, is welcomed, as is the intent of the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, which aims to build 30,000 new social and affordable rental homes over the next five years, with 4,000 reserved for women and children escaping domestic violence. I agree with the Greens that this is grossly inadequate and that there are aspects of the bill that need improvement, but community housing providers tell me that thousands of projects are being held up because the bill is stalled.
The solution is to dramatically increase the supply of social housing and have better collaboration between all levels of government. In one such example, the federal government, through NHFIC, the Victorian government and the community housing not-for-profit HousingFirst, have delivered the $76 million Halcyon village, building 152 affordable homes for people aged over 55 in Brighton East in my electorate. I was grateful last week to be invited by Diane to visit her picture-perfect apartment. HousingFirst also works with Bridge It, an organisation working in Goldstein and elsewhere to support people into refurbished accommodation in currently empty buildings, in an approach being driven by the goal of housing all Australian. Governments and agencies can work together to fix the problem if we park the politics. I would encourage the government and the Greens to show that leadership and find a reason to compromise to allow the HAFF to proceed.
The HAFF is far from perfect, as I made clear in my speech in the second reading debate and in subsequent correspondence and conversations with the housing minister, especially in relation to accountability and the adequacy of its capital base. But, the longer the Greens and the government keep shouting at each other, the longer thousands of people, many of them women, will have to keep couch surfing or sleeping in cars. With that in mind, I am today calling for an increase in Commonwealth rent assistance by 40 per cent to provide real and immediate support to around one million households. This was recommended by the Henry review and is supported by the Grattan Institute. We must also address the drivers of homelessness for older women, the gender inequality and discrimination that make them vulnerable in the first place. We must apply a gender lens to housing and housing solutions.