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While most Australians are able to house themselves without government assistance, such assistance remains important for various population groups, especially low income earners and social security recipients. Housing assistance is provided by the Commonwealth Government and the State and Territory Governments through a range of housing and other programs. Assistance for people with low incomes is provided through public housing, home purchase assistance and rent assistance schemes. Assistance is also provided to community organisations and local governments for refuges and crisis accommodation.
Public housing comprises dwellings owned and managed by State and Territory housing authorities and which are made available at low cost to tenants. Rents are generally set at a maximum of 25% of income, thereby providing low cost housing to people on low incomes. The median weekly housing cost for those renting from a State or Territory housing authority in 1997-98 was $53, compared to $143 for those renting from a private landlord. Expenditure under the CSHA on public housing and related assistance was approximately $1.3b in 1999-2000.
Over recent decades, public housing has been increasingly targeted towards those most in need. In 1997-98, 394,507 households (6% of all households) were living in public housing; of these, about 78% were in the lowest 40% of the household income distribution. Government pensions and benefits were the main source of income for the majority of households in public housing.
Home purchase assistance
Under the CSHA, the State and Territory Governments provide home purchase assistance to low to moderate income earners, including loans, shared equity schemes, deposit assistance and mortgage relief.
Under the Commonwealth Government Rent Assistance Program, Rent Assistance is paid to people who rent privately (including boarders and lodgers, residents in retirement villages, caravan parks, etc.) and pay rent above minimum threshold rental levels. It is a non-taxable supplement payable by the Departments of Family and Community Services, Veterans' Affairs, and Education, Training and Youth Affairs to eligible income support recipients. At June 2001, there were 976,333 income units in receipt of Rent Assistance, where an income unit is defined as a single person with or without dependants, or a couple with or without dependants. Total expenditure on Rent Assistance in 2000-01 was $1,717m. The level of Rent Assistance payable varies with the amount of rent paid, marital status and number of children in the family. The average rent paid by Rent Assistance recipients in June 2001 was $237 per fortnight while the average Rent Assistance received was $68 per fortnight.
As with public housing renters, a large proportion of Rent Assistance recipients are either lone persons or sole parents. In March 2001, 44% of those receiving rent assistance from the Department of Family and Community Services were single with no dependants, 23% were single with dependants, 15% were couples with dependants, and 8% were couples with no dependants.
Rent Assistance is indexed each March and September to the Consumer Price Index.
Under the CSHA, the State and Territory Governments also assist low income earners with the costs of rent, bonds and relocation in the private rental market. In 1999-2000 almost $70m was provided through these arrangements.
Table 8.22 provides details of the numbers of recipients of Rent Assistance for June 2001, together with average fortnightly rates of Rent Assistance provided and rents paid. Total outlays on Rent Assistance are included in outlays on Pensions, Allowances and family Tax Benefits (see Note 1 to table 7.16 in Income and welfare).
Governments also provide assistance in meeting the short-term accommodation needs of homeless people who are identified as a priority target group under the CSHA. The Commonwealth Government provides funding of $40m per annum for crisis accommodation through the Crisis Accommodation Program under the CSHA. The Commonwealth Government and the State and Territory Governments also provide assistance to people who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness, through the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP).
Within the context of the SAAP IV Bilateral Agreements 2000-05, national funding (i.e. Commonwealth and State/Territory contributions) will be over $1.4b. Total recurrent funding for the SAAP program during 2000-01 totalled $268.8m. Such funding consisted of a Commonwealth contribution of $157.7m and a State/Territory contribution of $111.2m.
In 2000, the AIHW’s Supported Accommodation and Crisis Services Unit published the 1999-2000 Supported Assistance Accommodation Program (SAAP) national data collection report (AIHW 2000b). The report showed that at least 90,000 clients were provided with support or supported accommodation through SAAP in Australia in 1999-2000. These contacts comprised a total of 157,600 occasions of support in 1999-2000.
Clients between 15 and 19 years of age were the single largest age grouping, accounting for 19% of all clients. Those aged between 20 and 24 constituted 16% of the total, and 14% were aged 45 years and over. Indigenous Australians constituted 14% of SAAP clients and people from non-English speaking backgrounds constituted 11%.
The most common form of client accommodation before support was private rental - some 20% of clients were living in the private rental market before support. A further 17% of support periods were for clients who had been staying at SAAP or Crisis Accommodation Program (CAP) funded accommodation. Clients who had been living in a car/tent/park/street or squat prior to seeking assistance accounted for 7% of all support periods (AIHW 2000b).
The Commonwealth Government, through the Department of Health and Aged Care, finances and regulates residential care for frail older people. The residential care is usually provided by the non-government sector, including religious, charitable and private sector providers. A small number of residential services are operated by the State and local government sectors. Capital assistance for upgrading or construction of facilities is made available to those aged care services catering largely for residents with special needs or on low incomes, and those in rural and remote areas of Australia (see the section Residential Aged Care Program in Income and welfare).
Under the Commonwealth/State Disability Agreement, the Commonwealth provides funds to assist the States and Territories in the planning, policy setting and management of accommodation and other related services for people with disabilities. The State and Territory Governments are responsible for administering these services (see the section People with disabilities in Income and welfare). Areas such as advocacy, and research and development continue to be a responsibility of both levels of government.
The Commonwealth also funds the AIHW. The AIHW’s role is to gather, analyse and disseminate national data on health and welfare services, including housing assistance, in order to support both government and community organisations' planning and policy making. The Housing Assistance unit of AIHW is involved in describing the need for, provision and use of housing assistance in Australia, supporting the development of standard terminologies, definitions and classifications for use in measuring housing assistance and contributing to the development of nationally consistent data.
In December 2001, the AIHW published ‘Australia’s Welfare 2001: Services and Assistance’ (AIHW 2001) which contains chapters on housing assistance and services for homeless people. Included in these chapters is information examining the need for assistance, government expenditure on services and assistance, the characteristics of recipients of assistance and outcomes.
A housing authority also exists in each State and Territory, which is responsible for the provision of public rental housing and often other housing related services such as home loans. These authorities are: