21 February 2022
There is no other indicator more inextricably linked to improved societal outcomes than housing. That means that our current crisis in housing affordability and supply is also a crisis in community wellbeing.
Impact of housing on wellbeing
Housing is the foundation from which people can connect to the community, economy and essential services, and where they can set themselves up for their future.
As noted by the ACT Government, “Access to secure, suitable, and affordable housing improves social inclusion, health, wealth, and welfare.”
This means that a lack of appropriate housing can severely impact a person’s life.
The impacts are perhaps most apparent for people experiencing homelessness, defined in Australian law as ‘inadequate access to safe and secure housing’. It is almost impossible to gain employment, education or access to necessary services without a stable home, let alone an address to put onto forms. And people experiencing homelessness are more likely to experience marginalisation because of their lack of access to economic and social support that many of us take for granted.
“Homelessness in my 50s was not something that was part of my life plan! Nor were the issues I faced leading up to my accommodation crisis.
The support I have received in the last year has not only helped me get secure accommodation but has been instrumental in keeping me alive.” – Client of YWCA Canberra’s Next Door program
For those lucky enough to have a home, being in inappropriate, unsafe or unaffordable housing can still have significant impacts on physical and mental wellbeing. A study funded by VicHealth showed that housing and health were clustered issues, with a strong relationship regardless of the person’s income, employment, education, occupation and other demographic factors. The same study also found that “the poorer people’s housing, the poorer their mental health.”
That’s why the World Health Organisation defines healthy housing as “shelter that supports a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing.” In addition to the physical structure, home is where people are safe, a refuge where they can develop a sense of identity and attachment, and a place from which to connect to community and form social cohesion.
Without this stable base, people are more likely to experience a perceived lack of autonomy, reduced socialisation, or financial stresses leading to physical and mental health issues and disassociation from community.
The housing situation in the ACT
During the COVID-19 pandemic, while job losses and reduced hours impacted so many, house prices continued to skyrocket. In the ACT, residential property prices rose by 25 per cent in the year to September 2021. And Canberra remains the most expensive capital city in Australia to rent at an average of $651 a week and rising, combined with an extremely low vacancy rate.
This means there are no affordable properties in Canberra for households on working-age social security payments. Not one.
And many of those on stable medium incomes are finding it difficult too. According to our survey of Canberra women, Our lives: women in the ACT, half the population is paying more than 30 per cent of their income on housing (whether rent or mortgage).
Additionally, 26 per cent of renters and 14 per cent of mortgage holders said they would not have enough money in savings to cover the cost of their housing for one payment cycle if they unexpectedly lost their income.
In the absence of affordable rentals and with the years-long wait times for public or social housing, the number of people seeking specialist homelessness services in the ACT has spiked during the pandemic. Nearly 60 per cent of those people are women and, between 2019 and 2021, we found a four-fold increase in older women using homelessness support services.
“Prior to COVID-19 I had been homeless since 2011 and had been a house sitter so as to not sleep rough. After COVID-19 I was allocated government housing through the efforts of YWCA Canberra, because there was no longer any housesitting available. I had been on the housing list for some years prior to this to no avail.” –respondent to YWCA Canberra’s Our lives: women in the ACT survey.
What YWCA Canberra does
YWCA Canberra has provided housing support to women and the broader Canberra community for 80 years.
Our housing programs empower women to overcome the challenges, trauma and inequality they have experienced in their lives and build their resilience, independence and wellbeing.
“I can honestly say that one phone call [to YWCA Canberra] started me on the path to recovering my independence again.” – Client of YWCA Canberra’s Next Door program
We are also in the process of developing purpose-built independent, affordable rental properties on a block of land we own in Ainslie. Our YHomes project is the first of its kind in Canberra and will cater to women age 55+ and younger women with children who may have experienced domestic and family violence, and are on modest incomes.
This supported housing development is a continuation of our mission to ‘strengthen communities by supporting women and girls through our service and our advocacy.’
What you can do
From now until 11 March 2022, you can donate to YWCA Canberra’s housing programs through the Hands Up for Canberra appeal, and your donation will be matched by Hands Across Canberra!
This means you could turn $25 into $50 and support older women in Canberra to have safe, affordable housing.