A new report turns the spotlight on Australia’s looming social housing crisis, with the prolonged impact of the pandemic on the economy not only causing unemployment but also leading to homelessness.

Everybody’s Home, a national campaign to end homelessness, has welcomed the report by UNSW Sydney and Australian Council of Social Service’s Poverty and Inequality research partnership, titled COVID-19: Rental Housing and Homelessness Impacts – An Initial Analysis.

Several measures were taken to mitigate the multipronged impacts of the pandemic including eviction moratoriums, temporary increases to income support payments and emergency accommodation programs. Despite these measures, housing security continues to remain a major concern for many Australians with skyrocketing rents making rental housing unaffordable to many; the shortage of affordable housing is further compounding the problem.

With the demand for social housing outstripping supply, Everybody’s Home has called on the Federal Government to deliver more affordable rental housing for struggling Australian families.

According to the organisation, temporary income and eviction protections are due to be phased out at a time when unemployment is set to peak at around 8 per cent. Without new measures, homelessness and housing stress will rise, says Everybody’s Home spokesperson Kate Colvin.

“Renters were hit much harder by COVID than homeowners, particularly in locations where rents increased even as unemployment soared. This will only get worse, and especially so in regional Australia.

“Compared with the situation at the start of the pandemic, the number of households suffering housing stress will increase anywhere from 5 per cent to 18 per cent, depending on the severity of the recession.

“COVID exposed a social housing system that is deeply strained and lacking a supply pipeline to meet demand. Stay-at-home orders also revealed just how precarious many people’s accommodation is, from those who are homeless to those unable to meet rent or mortgage payments.”

The Federal Government’s role in the design and implementation of housing and homelessness responses (as distinct from cash payments) has been extremely hands-off, the report stated.

“We must heed the lessons of COVID-19 about the importance of home and the value of Government stimulus and start to build new social housing. We can start with building 30,000 social housing units that will not only provide homes for those that need it most, but also help boost the economy,” says Colvin. 

Last December, Everybody’s Home released an Equity Economics report that found Government investment of $7.7 billion in social housing, including federal funding complemented by funds from the states and territories, would reduce homelessness, boost the post-pandemic economy by $18.2 billion and create 18,000 jobs a year over four years.