Last week as I passed by the tents, cars and makeshift shelters constructed by people rough sleeping at Hobart Showgrounds, I felt a not unfamiliar sense of outrage that people are being forced to live like this.

This is a vulnerable group of people and families with young children who have made a last ditch, desperate attempt to find some form of shelter. They have been pushed into homelessness because they have nowhere affordable, safe and secure to live in Tasmania. So they “make do” with what they have.

I’ve been a State Director for Mission Australia for 18 years now, and I can tell you that what we’re seeing in the Showgrounds is just the tip of the iceberg. As any person working in this sector will know, there are many more Tasmanians who might not be making headlines by rough sleeping, but are being pushed into homelessness. These are the people who have to move from couch to couch because they have nowhere permanent to stay, they’re living in your neighbour’s garage, or sleeping in their car. They’re the young people being assisted by our Youth Beat service, or your elderly neighbour moving into the crisis accommodation down the road. As a third generation Tasmanian, I know very well that Hobart’s issue with homelessness isn’t just a flash in the pan problem. It’s been a systemic issue for decades.

But, this is the first time in Tasmanian history where our newly booming real estate market is not only a major reason people are being pushed into homelessness, but it could also hold the key to helping solve this problem.

The economics of it are simple. Housing demand drives up prices, resulting in more people being unable to get on the housing ladder. They remain in the rental market which ensures more demand for rental properties, this means that rents can rise. But social payments like rental assistance and the Age Pension simply don’t keep up with the pace. So, an elderly renter who used to pay $265 for a one bed apartment in South Hobart is suddenly expected to pay more than $350. Of course, they can try and find somewhere more affordable. But at some point, the only affordable option becomes the street, or a car or a couch at a friends’ house. Vulnerable places, uncomfortable transient places, not places we want people and families to be living.

That is the plight faced by more than 3,000 people who are on the public housing waiting list in Tasmania.

Strangely enough this flood of new developments, and you cannot walk around Hobart and not notice them, is also a golden opportunity to help reduce homelessness. But like all golden opportunities, this one has a fast approaching expiration date.

Our government must, as a matter of urgency, prioritise putting inclusionary zoning laws in place to ensure every new development includes a proportion of social and affordable housing. They could go one step further and mandate that any new development on government land include a higher percentage of social and affordable housing. While housing affordability is a feature of the upcoming election with both major parties keen to fund Affordable Housing Plans, we need to see immediate action to get the wheels turning on practical solutions before it’s too late.

We also need sustainable and innovative housing solutions. We need the government to work with the private and non-government sector to build diverse and healthy communities. There are developers and other organisations that are keen to deliver more homes in Tasmania. With the right government intervention, we can make sure these developments deliver social and affordable homes too. It is of vital importance that new social and affordable homes are created within communities of opportunity, connected to education, training and support services.

The housing crisis is not going to be solved unless we re-prioritise the developments we want to see in our city. We are in this together and we have a responsibility to commit to ensuring that people of all ages and people facing challenges in their lives, can afford a safe place to come home to.

We simply can’t continue to let these problems escalate and stand by while people can no longer afford a home. Urgent action is needed to ensure that the developments that are being planned truly meet the needs of all people in our state. To ensure our children and our children’s children have a safe place to call home. It will take a range of partnerships and political determination to deliver this. But we know that the building of inclusive communities has been incredibly successful in cities in Australia and around the world. Let’s strike now while the property’s hot. We must not look back on this property boom with regret.

Noel Mundy, State Director Tasmania and Victoria, Mission Australia


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