POLITICS

Pleas For Government To Not Ditch $1b Affordable Housing Agreement

Scott Morrison has hinted the program might be chopped in the May budget.

07/03/2017 1:41 PM AEDT | Updated 07/03/2017 4:16 PM AEDT
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The federal government is being begged to not scrap a $1 billion affordable housing agreement, after treasurer Scott Morrison began dropping hints that its future may not extend past the May budget.

The National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA), a $1.3 billion a year social housing plan, is reportedly on the chopping block because public housing stocks have actually reduced since the plan was born in 2009. Morrison recently called the fund a "one-way ATM to the states", claiming it had not met any of its goals.

The NAHA is meant "to ensure that all Australians have access to affordable, safe and sustainable housing", investing in social housing but with around $250 million for homelessness services. But figures show the stock of social housing has actually gone down since the NAHA was instituted.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said the NAHA tipped in "the only federal funding stream for homelessness", and called for the agreement to be saved.

""The federal funding for homelessness services falls seriously short of what is needed, but scrapping it would be an utter disaster. If the Turnbull government is going to wind up NAHA then they need to explain how they are going to guarantee that funding for social housing and homelessness services will continue," she told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Dropping hints in the media leaves the entire sector in limbo, at a time when they need guarantees that federal subsidies for homelessness and low income housing will continue. It is a cowardly way to go about this."

Kate Colvin, of the Council to Homeless Persons, told HuffPost Australia last month that it was critically important the government to not scrap or reduce the NAHA, warning of a 'tsunami of homelessness' if the funding were affected. Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare outline that nearly 280,000 Australians were helped by specialist homelessness agencies in 2015-16.

"It has not been a failure, it's a critical part of our housing market that stands between people being housed and an absolute tsunami of homelessness on our streets," Colvin said.

"Without it, we'd see homelessness at levels hard to imagine. The private rental market has no place for those households, they've been competed out of the private market. There's 200,000 households on public housing waitlists, maybe in the private market or crowding in with another family. A separate fund is needed to increase the public housing stock overall."

Other agencies including the Australian Council of Social Services and Homelessness Australia have also called for the NAHA to be preserved.

"If the reports are accurate this would be a betrayal by the Commonwealth of a vital essential funding program which supports some of the most disadvantaged people in our community. It includes crucial funding for a significant proportion of all the homelessness services in Australia," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"This proposed cut will destroy the homelessness service system at a time when there are more
Australians than ever needing help," said Katherine McKernan, the acting chair of Homelessness Australia.

Since initial reports were published that the NAHA was up for review, the government has said it would protect the homelessness funding component if the wider agreement was changed. Rhiannon said preserving the agreement as a whole was important.

"The sector is already punching above their weight with the limited money available to them, after the Liberal-National government stripped homelessness funding to the bone. Last year 275 requests for assistance from homelessness services were not met. This is a crisis," she said.

"The Liberal-National government should be working with the sector to improve the agreement, not cutting and running because they have an excuse to ditch the Agreement. Any overhaul of federal funding for housing must not leave the most vulnerable people in our society worse off."

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