Since the ending of the rental moratorium in March this year Shelter WA, in partnership with our members and key partners, continues to take the pulse of the number of people seeking housing assistance across the community sector. The first update was given at the Rental Roundtable held a month on from the ending of the rental moratorium.
Our second update, at a Housing Solutions Summit had a twofold purpose: to understand what the community sector is currently seeing and to discuss collaborative solutions to meet current and future housing need.
In her introduction, Chief Executive Officer of Shelter WA, Michelle Mackenzie, echoed some observations contained within the newly released draft State Infrastructure Strategy.
“Housing security is increasingly difficult for many,” she said.
“WA’s population and household structures are changing, living costs are increasing, and more people are requiring housing assistance due to shifts in personal circumstances.”
The first half of the session heard from speakers who provided an update at the “coalface” of their work.
Circle Green Community Legal
Sara Kane the Chief Executive Officer at Circle Green Community Legal, outlined the increasing demand for their services.
Circle Green is a community legal centre providing state-wide specialist legal services in employment, residential tenancy law, family and domestic violence, and migration services aimed at assisting people who are otherwise disadvantaged in their access to legal services.
From January to June 2021 there were over 15,000 calls for tenancy advice and 30 web enquiries per day for tenancy issues. Due to large demand clients are waiting up to two weeks for a legal appointment despite Circle Green Community Legal providing up to 100 legal advices per week.
Susan Rooney the Chief Executive Officer at Vinnies WA spoke about the desperation and enormous distress.
“We often see people a number of times, depending on the complexity of the issues they are dealing with,” she said. “There are a lot more people being evicted, due to a landlord selling their home or large rent increases that people cannot meet and there is nowhere affordable for them to go so they are falling into homelessness. More people are moving back in with their families as adult children going back to live with their elderly parents in small homes causing overcrowding or people are sleeping on couches at friends’ homes.
“There are families living in boarding houses, low-budget hotels and in cars. In 2020-21 we supported around 400 families living in cars who would meet our volunteers somewhere like a petrol station to get assistance for food or petrol. Some of these families park near schools so their children can still attend.”
“There are families living in boarding houses, low-budget hotels and in cars.”
Vinnies runs the National Debt Helpline a financial counselling service and Susan shared her observations of the impossible housing situation people are finding themselves in.
“We have the most amazing volunteers; some have been with us for over 40 years, and they are saying to us this is the worst they’ve ever seen it. They feel that they can’t help people the way they need to because what they need is an affordable home and they are just not there.”
Centre for Women’s Safety and Wellbeing
Dr Alison Evans the Director at the Centre for Women’s Safety and Wellbeing provided a powerful presentation and explained that women and children are struggling to find a safe place after leaving their home due to violence. Comparing March 2020 and March 2021 there was a 5.9 per cent increase in the number of women seeking specialist homelessness services that had experienced domestic violence, compared to a 0.4 per cent decrease across all other client groups.
Dr Evans described that 90 per cent of women are being knocked back from their first request, and that inadequate housing perpetuates violence against women and their children, saying they’re seeing too many women returning to violent partners because they can’t achieve a housing outcome.
“Too many women returning to violent partners rather than navigating the system.”
Dr Evans read out some of the issues reported to her from various service providers and read a statement by a refuge worker who said: “What I am witnessing is women feeling absolute despair. Staff are also having to work in conflict with their values because they are having to tell victim-survivors there are no vacancies.”
Dr Evans also said. “One service provider said women are more likely to return to their partner if they have difficulty maintaining independent accommodation and when you have young children and without the prospect of long-term housing options, we see too many women returning to violent partners rather than navigating the system. Stable housing is critical for women to build a safe life”.
After a short break a series of local experts outlined housing solutions, they are delivering ahead of an extended panel discussion with a Q&A.
Michelle’s “My Home” initiative is based on the Housing First model and is delivered on land provided by the Western Australian State Government at a peppercorn lease in partnership with St. Patrick’s Community Support Centre. Michelle is a local architect, with a keen interest in social and low-income housing.
“Our first site in North Fremantle will have 18 single occupant houses and is fully funded,” she said. “We will be able to start construction on the first houses by the end of August. Due to the nature of the prefabrication each of these houses, if you could imagine a flat pack from Ikea, the wall, roof and floor panels are delivered to site and each house is erected in three hours. A builder then takes over and completes the fit out, plumbing and electrical work.”
“Construction of the houses is funded by the private corporate sector.”
The residents will be older women experiencing or at risk of homelessness and will be managed by St Pat’s. “My Home” has secured other sites in Berwick Street Victoria Park, a Church site in Dianella and Geraldton. The Western Australian Planning Commission has said it would continue to provide land once the first houses are completed and demonstrate the model. Construction of the houses is funded by the private corporate sector. The governments are not required to provide any funding.
This is a good example of utilising vacant government land and prefabricated housing in partnership with industry and a community housing provider to deliver new social homes.
You can view a “My Home” demonstration here.
Dominic is the Chief Operating Officer of Accommodation Solutions at Fleetwood Australia. Fleetwood works with Government departments, community organisations, developers, businesses, architects and engineers to design, build and install high quality modular buildings.
“We build in a factory using modules as shown here.
“Think of modules as a giant LEGO brick, approximately the size of the back of a truck. Our modules include the same fixtures and finishes that you see in traditionally built homes. Once fitted out with cabinets, tiling, kitchens and bathrooms, our modules are transported to the site where the land has been prepared. Within a few days or weeks, the modules are swiftly assembled on site and services like electricity and gas are connected.
“The speed of construction is a key benefit of the modular building method, along with minimised community impacts, risks and disruption. Modular building can deliver homes 20 per cent to 50 per cent faster than traditional building methods,” Dominic comments.
Fleetwood is the largest Australian-owned national offsite manufacturing and construction company. Headquartered in Perth, Fleetwood has partnered with government and community-based organisations to deliver high quality affordable housing for people on low incomes including the WA Department of Finance, YMCA, The Gumala Aboriginal Corporation, Government of Western Australia Housing Authority, Royalties for Regions and Building and Asset Services QLD.
Check out the video of Osprey Village delivered in Port Hedland.
Lee, a Partner at MinterEllison practising in real estate and major projects spoke in his capacity as the WA Chair of Housing All Australians.
Housing All Australians is an organisation consisting of private sector individuals and corporates which have a single mission to harness the goodwill and ability of the private sector to address the chronic shortage of low-income housing. They provide a forum for sharing facts, experience and private sector skills and focus on solutions which don’t rely on government financial subsidies to repurpose or establish new accommodation.
One of their priorities is what is known as a ‘pop up shelter’ which refers to short-term transitional housing which is created by re-purposing vacant residential, aged care or retirement village facilities. Lee showed an example of a pop up shelter in Melbourne known as the Lake House which has successfully housed 85 women from July 2018 to June 2021.
“We can help Uniting WA deliver the project at a fraction of the cost.”
In WA, Housing All Australians has teamed up with Uniting WA to redevelop an unused heritage house in Fremantle. “The target demographic is women aged 55 plus and we hope to house approximately 13 women” Lee said. “We have an exceptional team of heritage architects, surveyors, town planners and lawyers who are contributing their services and expertise on a pro bono basis. This means we can help Uniting WA deliver the project at a fraction of the cost”.
This is a good example of repurposing vacant buildings to increase social housing supply.
Chris is the CEO at Foundation Housing, a registered Tier One community housing provider. “Our sector when enabled, has the demonstrated capacity to leverage new and affordable housing,” Chris said.
In early 2021, Foundation Housing launched a new affordable housing program called ‘Elevate by Foundation Housing’, comprising 100 new affordable homes for WA’s essential workers. The tenants in these homes pay rent 25 per cent under market rates. They approached the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) to access low-cost, longer tenor loans.
“It is important we maintain affordable housing supply.”
“I am pleased to say we are looking at doing another project such as this. I have a workshop tomorrow with an investor representing a super fund and we hope to take another two to three hundred houses to market over the next twelve months.
“We are focusing on affordable housing as there is no strategy for social or public housing. We would love to be delivering three hundred long-term social units to the market, that is what we want to do an what we are committed to but in the interim, it is important we maintain affordable housing supply.”
In her presentation Michelle Mackenzie provided an overview of the Unlock Housing campaign which contains a suite of solutions in partnership with government, industry, and the community sector to deliver the homes needed for people across Western Australia.
In concluding the event Shelter WA Chairperson Kieran Wong ran a panel session with each of the solutionists with questions from the audience and via Zoom.