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Evictions should be illegal: Housing expert

Lucy Dean
·4-min read
Pictured: Australian houses, Leilani Farha.
More needs to be done to address housing affordability, Leilani Farha said. Images: Getty

Evictions should be “completely prohibited” if they make people homeless, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing has said during a visit to New Zealand.

Commenting on the country’s housing crisis, Special Rapporteur Leilani Farha said the crisis goes beyond housing and extends into a “human rights crisis”, as she announced the results of her visit, the New Zealand Herald reports.

"At the root of the crisis is a speculative housing market that has been supported by successive governments, who have promoted homeownership as an investment, while until recently discontinuing the provision of social housing and providing inadequate tenant protection,” Farha said.

"So you have to say, 'Okay, you want to play in residential real estate? You have to realise it's a human right.'"

Māori and Pasifika people, and those who are already homeless, are particularly affected, but the worst-affected are people with disabilities.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing Leilani Farha attends a press conference in New Delhi on April 22, 2016. / AFP / CHANDAN KHANNA        (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing Leilani Farha. Image: Getty

"I have heard stories of people in wheelchairs with no access to bathrooms. I met a man who said he needed help just to get in and out of his house."

She said evictions from primary residences should be considered only after all other alternatives have been explored by all parties involved, and if evictions cannot be avoided, “alternative affordable housing should be provided as proximate as possible to the place of residence”.

Australia’s housing crisis

A homeless man packs up his tent in Martin Place, which has become known as "Tent City", in the central business district of Sydney on August 11, 2017. A homeless tent city in the heart of Sydney was being dismantled on August 11, after political wrangling over who was responsible for the plight of those sleeping rough in the midst of winter sparked the introduction of new laws. / AFP PHOTO / Peter PARKS        (Photo credit should read PETER PARKS/AFP via Getty Images)
A homeless man packs up his tent in Martin Place, which has become known as "Tent City", in the central business district of Sydney on August 11, 2017. Image: Getty

Her words come as Australia grapples with a housing crisis of its own: Australian home values are around seven times the size of the average salary.

And as Australia’s wage growth remains flat, the situation is growing even more dire for those attempting to enter - or remain in - the country’s accelerating property market.

And year after year, Australia’s capital city housing markets have been branded “severely unaffordable”. Over 2017-18, more than 15 per cent spent more than 30 per cent of their income on housing.

And around 116,000 Australians were estimated to be homeless in 2016, up from 102,439 in 2011. In fact, between 2011 and 2018, homelessness increased a huge 14 per cent as housing prices also surged.

Productivity Commission figures released in January also revealed an increase in the number of homeless people not being able to access refuge.

The report found 33.8 per cent of Australians needing access over 2018-19 were not getting them.

Homelessness advocacy group Everybody’s Home said a 30 per cent increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance and major investment in housing services is required to reverse “decades of underinvestment in social housing by successive governments”.

“Even with rent assistance many Australians are having to make the really tough choice between paying for basics like food or medication or paying the rent,” spokesperson Kate Colvin said.

“At the same time, we’re seeing a drop in the proportion of households living in public or community housing because the housing just isn’t there for people who desperately need it.”

The government earlier this month launched an inquiry into homelessness.

However, advocates and support services are agreed: the best way to boost housing affordability and stem the flow of Australians tumbling into homelessness is to increase the supply of affordable renting housing.

This means making sure the amount of social housing grows at the same rate as the population. However, that hasn’t happened for 20 years, Professor Hal Pawson from the University of New South Wales City Futures Research Centre has said.

Investing in social housing fell 8 per cent in the four years to 2016-17, with the national social housing stocking growing at only half the rate needed to keep up with population growth.

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