By Marilyn Kraner, Individual & Family Support Manager
In 2017, the issue of social housing hit the mainstream. Described as an ‘affordable housing crisis’, the disturbing images of homeless people in the world’s most liveable city generated considerable media coverage and intense community discussion on how best to deal with the issue.
What had traditionally been seen as a welfare or fringe issue affecting others, but not us, was now being talked about as increasingly affecting the ‘average’ Victorian across all levels of the housing continuum; from supply to planning, private ownership to rental arrangements, and social and public housing.
So, what does the housing affordability crisis look like for Victorian Jewry?
We know the Jewish community is far from immune to the housing problem. On any given night, Jewish Care houses over 120 individuals, including 36 children, in our social and affordable housing. We also know that the drivers of housing strain, such as rising housing prices and rental costs, unemployment and underemployment, financial hardship and insecurity, relationship breakdown, and physical and mental health issues, impact on our community as much as the rest of the Victorian community. Like the rest of the Victorian community, the housing crisis has moved beyond the extreme, beyond the fringes, to the everyday, the every person. We know this because of the stories we hear coming through our Front Door at Jewish Care.
Unfortunately, there remain significant housing challenges for the community.
Whilst there have always been long wait times for public and community housing, some disadvantages unique to the Jewish community – a community that lives through its connections to communal and religious life- remain and lead to increased housing strain. These include:
- Government proposed changes and housing additions that are not targeted to the areas where the Jewish community resides,
- a lack of Governmental willingness to address the unique housing needs of the Victorian Jewish community,
- a recent housing-stock acquisition by the Director of Housing targeting areas where land and established houses are often cheaper and not within the Eruv (a boundary that allows Jews to carry in public areas on Shabbat), leading to the unintended consequence of creating a public housing wait list of families that are eligible and top priority, but waiting for an offer of housing that does not exist,
- the focus by housing providers on increased volume in decreased space leading to a greater supply in apartment style housing and limiting opportunities for larger families,
- modernisation of properties that rarely accounts for cultural and religious requirements. Where properties become available, modern swipe card entrances and building designs create new barriers for religious families, and
- difficulties in securing affordable housing for life is likely to remain a challenge.
For these reasons and despite the lack of any Government funding, it is essential that Jewish Care remain in the business of providing housing that:
- remains diverse and culturally appropriate,
- can accommodate larger families, and
- stops the need for religious families to be forced to choose between living an orthodox life or being sustainably housed.
Jewish Care’s social and affordable housing ensures that those who seek to remain in community; connected to Jewish Schools and Shuls but unable to sustain private tenancies, are financially able to do so. It is essential that we ensure these properties remain available for our community. To achieve this, we operate using a transitional housing model. To ensure we have a steady flow of properties available, we actively work to support people who live in Jewish Care social housing, firstly find stability and safety, and then to transition to other sustainable, longer-term housing options such as public housing or, for some, back into the private market.
The problem is well understood, as is the solution.
Of Government, Jewish Care will continue to advocate for the needs of people with religious requirements under the new initiatives.
We continue to seek opportunities to talk about how the unique housing needs of the Victorian Jewish community can be met and prioritised in partnership with the Department to ensure that supply coming from the ‘Homes for Victorians’ strategy accommodates the building design and location requirements of orthodox families and singles.
For Jewish Care, the solution also comes in the form of continuing to invest in programs that stop people from falling out of the private rental market or home ownership. These responses seek to intervene across the entire housing/homelessness spectrum; focusing on prevention, early intervention, crisis support, and transitional and long-term support. We will do this by continuing to:
- provide interest free loans to support first home buyers,
- offer financial counselling and advocate with banks to stop mortgage foreclosures, and with utility companies to negotiate payment plans,
- utilise financial aid to assist people to enter, exit, or maintain private rental,
- provide social and affordable housing in the heart of the Jewish community for the most vulnerable- those on Centrelink incomes- and are currently in the midst of upgrading much of the housing we own, and
- actively assist to sustain tenancies by wrapping a range of supports around individuals and families, including social work and counselling supports.
We also believe solutions will be found in ensuring the community understands and engages in the issue of the affordable housing crisis. Whilst Private rental markets are a significant contributor to the housing affordability crisis that many in the Jewish community are experiencing, we believe it can also be a place where some of the answers are to be found. There needs to be targeted interventions and options at all levels of the housing pathway, such as the development of partnerships with private landlords, exploring strategies for reducing the financial gap between Centrelink income and market rent for families and singles.
In 2018, we will be seeking landlords who are in a position to be part of our endeavour to house the Jewish community in safe and sustainable housing. By working together, we can draw on the generosity of our community to deliver an enhanced social housing opportunity; one that is mutually beneficial for landlords and tenants alike, supports the most vulnerable in our community, and offers a dynamic and innovative solution to housing insecurity. Our community has a long and proud history of supporting those in need and we look forward to making this exciting new venture a reality.
If 2017 has been the year of the affordable housing crisis, then let’s view 2018 as the year of the affordable housing solution.