21 October 2022

Affordable housing crisis and inflation land vulnerable Canberrans 'significantly in the red'

| Dione David
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Woman in wheelchair

The housing affordability crisis and inflation are leaving vulnerable cohorts ”significantly in the red” financially – or worse. Photo: Envato.

Amid a community sector buckling under a lack of affordable housing and rising costs of living, sector leaders are calling on the government for decisive action.

Peak ACT disability body Advocacy For Inclusion (AFI) wants the territory government to make good on its housing strategy and increase welfare payments for people with disability.

AFI Head of Policy Craig Wallace said the situation was “dire” for this vulnerable cohort.

“We’re seeing in our advocacy a lot of people in severe financial distress and poverty,” he said.

“We want to see the government deliver on the commitments laid out under the ACT Housing Strategy and try to keep pace with demand.

“This will mean delivering significant numbers of new public housing. Realistically we’re talking thousands of homes needed here, not hundreds.”

He pointed to the Anglicare 2022 Rental Affordability Snapshot, which indicated no suitable, available and affordable rentals for people on a disability support pension.

READ ALSO ACTCOSS wants reform to address ‘shameful’ child poverty rates in ACT

This was compounded by the specific accessibility requirements people with a disability often have, which further narrowed the pool of suitable and affordable housing for this demographic.

“There was a big push recently to include accessibility measures into building requirements but we need to see them get on with it and start regulating,” Mr Wallace said.

“We need better housing supply overall in the ACT planning systems and new planning systems to prioritise accessible housing at scale in greenfield and brownfield developments.

“Social and affordable housing that’s accessible should be a priority in the Indicative Land Release Program – we think it should be a 15 per cent target. There should be work on inclusionary rezoning, so parcels of land are earmarked for this.

“There are also significant issues with the maintenance of existing housing – especially public housing – so that it keeps pace with people’s changing disability requirements.”

Advocacy For Inclusion Head of Policy Craig Wallace

Advocacy For Inclusion Head of Policy Craig Wallace. Photo: Marco Del Grande.

Mr Wallace said it was partly a question of marketing accessible housing as a viable and attractive option for developers and landlords.

AFI has laid out several possibilities to explore, including tax reforms to incentivise people to maintain affordable housing in tandem with more public and social housing.

“Or we could take an approach similar to defence housing where it’s marketed as a safe option for landlords to get in good, stable tenants,” he said.

“People with disability are reliable tenants; when we find a home that works for us, we tend to stay put.”

READ ALSO Isolation, loneliness was ‘awful to endure’: older Canberrans’ mental health in the spotlight

Around 8000 people in the ACT live on a disability support pension as their primary income replacement.

“For a single person, without any additional supplements, this is around $450 a week,” Mr Wallace said.

“That’s not a lot when you consider the median weekly rent in the ACT is around $650 a week. Groceries are estimated at $123 a week, utilities $190 a month and internet $75 a month.

“We’ve calculated that leaves about $20 a day to spend on healthcare, transport and all other expenses.

“Many people with disability cannot drive or use public transport, which leaves them reliant on the most expensive modes of transportation. There are also often higher-than-average medical expenses that come with having an impairment.

“We estimate most people’s budgets are significantly in the red, leaving them in need of aid from family or support organisations just to get by. It’s not sustainable.

“We’re calling for a $50-a-week illness and disability supplement that recognises these additional costs.”

Council on the Ageing (COTA) ACT CEO Jenny Mobbs said another vulnerable cohort – the elderly – faced similar challenges.

“They’re feeling the increase in the cost of medications because the elderly often require more,” she said.

COTA ACT CEO Jenny Mobbs

COTA ACT CEO Jenny Mobbs. Photo: COTA ACT.

“Sometimes they’re not looking after themselves with good nutrition or skipping meals because the cost of produce has gone up enormously.

“Rent prices are astronomical, so we have a constant stream of older people – particularly older women – ending up homeless.

“Others can’t pay energy costs because of the rent increases. This will impact their welfare over summer and winter.”

Ms Mobbs said for older people on fixed incomes and pensions, poverty was sometimes a source of shame.

“Younger parents can say ‘this is what happened to me, I need help’ but many older people feel they should’ve been wiser and that their circumstances are their own fault.”

The plight of these vulnerable demographics comes into the spotlight for Anti-Poverty Week, which ends today, 22 October. Click here to learn more.

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