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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 Australian 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. Currently, rents are generally set at a maximum of 25% of income.
It is estimated that public housing tenants pay 68.6% of the rent they would pay in the private rental market after adjusting for any Rent Assistance they would receive if renting privately.
Over recent decades, public housing has been increasingly targeted towards those most in need. At 30 June 2002, there were around 400,000 households in social housing. Government pensions and benefits were the main source of income for the majority of households in public housing.
Home purchase assistance (HPA)
HPA is provided by some states to assist low-to-moderate income households to purchase a home or to provide help with mortgage repayments. Some of the mechanisms used to assist low-to-moderate income earners include loans, shared equity schemes, deposit assistance and mortgage relief. States offer HPA options in line with local market conditions. The emphasis given to loan products varies significantly between jurisdictions. Western Australia and South Australia placed the greatest emphasis on various forms of subsidised loan products, partly due to lower housing prices, which make home purchase feasible on lower incomes. Other jurisdictions such as New South Wales gave greater emphasis to mortgage relief for home purchasers experiencing hardship.
The Australian Government pays rent assistance, a non-taxable income supplement, to eligible social security customers who pay rent in the private rental market. Rent can include private rent, lodgings, board and lodgings, site fees, fees to moor a vessel, or service and maintenance fees in a retirement village.
To be eligible for rent assistance, a customer must first pay rent above a certain threshold level, then rent assistance is paid at the rate of 75 cents in each dollar above the threshold, until a maximum amount is reached. Maximum rates and thresholds vary depending on a person's family situation.
Rent assistance is indexed twice-yearly in March and September to the consumer price index.
As at June 2003, there were 940,708 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. The average rent paid by rent assistance customers in June 2003 was $264 per fortnight while the average rent assistance received was $75 per fortnight.
A large proportion of rent assistance customers are either single people or sole parents. In June 2003, 54% of rent assistance customers were single without children, 24% were single with children, 14% were couples with children and 8% were couples without children.
Under 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 2001-02 almost $80m was provided through these arrangements.
Table 8.21 provides details of the number of rent assistance customers, average fortnightly rates of rent assistance and average fortnightly rents. Outlays on rent assistance are included in the total expenditure on Pensions, Allowance and Family Tax Benefits as contained in Income and welfare.
The Australian Government and the state and territory governments provide assistance to people who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness, through the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP). Under the SAAP IV Bilateral Agreements 2000-05, national funding (i.e. Australian and state governments and territory contributions) will be over $1.4b. Total recurrent funding for the SAAP program during 2001-02 totalled $277m. This funding consisted of a an Australian Government contribution of $162m and a state/territory contribution of $115m.
In 2002-03, the Supported Accommodation and Crisis Services Unit, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), published the 2001-02 Supported Assistance Accommodation Program (SAAP) National Data Collection Annual Report (AIHW 2002). The report showed that 95,600 clients were provided with support or supported accommodation through SAAP in 2001-02. These contacts comprised a total of 177,000 occasions of support in 2001-02. For 22% of support periods the main reason for seeking assistance was either due to usual accommodation being unavailable or eviction/previous accommodation ended.
There were more female clients (56%) than male clients (44%) and the average age of males was 33 years while the average for female clients was 30 years. Indigenous clients were over-represented as SAAP clients relative to their population size. Less than 2% of Australians aged 10 or over identified as Indigenous persons in June 2001, whereas 17% of SAAP clients in 2001-02 were Indigenous. On average, Indigenous clients had more support periods than other clients.
The most common main reasons clients gave for seeking assistance were domestic violence (22% of support periods), eviction or ending of previous accommodation (12%), usual accommodation was unavailable (10%) and relationship or family breakdown (10%).
Nationally, males aged 25 years and over presenting alone at SAAP agencies was the client group which accounted for the largest proportion of all support periods (33%), followed by female clients with children (20%). Overall 6% of support periods were for couples with or without children, while males with children account for 1% of all support periods.
For clients who specially sought assistance to obtain independent housing there were significant changes in accommodation type before and after support. In particular, accommodation in public or community housing went from 8% of support periods before support to 22% after. The proportion of support periods in which clients were renting privately also increased (from 18% before support to 25% after) (AIHW 2002).
Governments also provide assistance in meeting the short-term accommodation needs of homeless people who identified as a priority target group under the CSHA. The Australian Government provides funding of $40m per annum for crisis accommodation through the Crisis Accommodation Program under the CSHA. The Crisis Accommodation Program provides funds for the purchase, construction, renovation, maintenance and lease of dwellings to provide accommodation services to assist people who are homeless or in crisis.
Housing assistance program for Indigenous persons
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services (ATSIS) administer a number of programs to improve the living environment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The second largest program administered is the Community Housing and Infrastructure Program (CHIP) which has the aim of providing appropriate, safe and affordable housing, and improving community and individual health and wellbeing.
CHIP provides funds for the construction, purchase, repair and management of community housing as well as for the provision and maintenance of housing-related infrastructure (essential services such as water, sewerage, electricity and community roads) and recurrent funding for the provision of municipal services. Through CHIP, grants are provided to:
In 2002-03, CHIP expenditure totalled $243m, of which around half went to the provision of housing. Over 500 houses were purchased or constructed and over 1,100 upgraded or renovated. CHIP has a particular focus on environmental health-related infrastructure, via a specific sub-program called the NAHS. Projects in the NAHS are generally large-scale, targeting priority housing and infrastructure including power, water and waste removal, mainly in rural and remote Indigenous communities. In 2002-03 more than $91m in grant funds was provided under NAHS.
As shown below in table 8.22 most expenditure under the CHIP Program is in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland.
ATSIC engaged the ABS to undertake a Community Housing and Infrastructure Needs Survey (CHINS) during 2001. The timing of CHINS was to align the process with the 2001 Census of Population and Housing. The CHINS 2001 report, which was released in May 2002, provides a comprehensive picture of Indigenous housing circumstances across all tenures at a single point in time.
ATSIC’s Community Housing and Infrastructure Program supplements the efforts of state/territory governments, who also receive earmarked Indigenous Housing funds from the Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS) under the Aboriginal Rental Housing Program ($91m per annum).
The Australian Government, through FaCS and ATSIC, and state and territory governments have established Indigenous Housing Agreements in order to maximise Indigenous housing program efficiency and effectiveness through a coordinated approach to planning and delivery of housing and housing-related services. As at 30 June 2003, Housing Agreements or Memorandums of Understanding had been signed in all states and territories with the exception of Victoria.
National Indigenous housing reforms
The Standing Committee on Indigenous Housing (SCIH) comprises Commonwealth, ATSIC and state and territory representatives. It reports on its activities directly to the Housing Ministers' Advisory Council (HMAC) and, in particular, provides advice on strategic Indigenous housing issues to HMAC and manages the implementation of Housing Ministers' Ten Year Statement of New Directions (Building a Better Future: Indigenous Housing to 2010).
In adopting the Building a Better Future: Indigenous Housing to 2010, housing ministers resolved to improve Indigenous housing outcomes in the next ten years through three major strategies:
SCIH has identified thirteen key priority areas for attention including: addressing homelessness; coordination with mainstream programs; Commonwealth State Housing Agreement (CSHA) re-negotiations; Council of Australian Governments (COAG) reconciliation agenda; skills development; viability of Indigenous housing organisations; sustainability of housing; and a range of data collection issues the development of models for targeting funds.
Over the past year ATSIC has been a member of various SCIH Working Groups, and has been involved in a range of activities including:
In line with the agreed outcomes as outlined in Building a Better Future, all funding agencies including the Indigenous State Housing Authorities (ISHA) will be developing strategies to achieve the agreed outcomes within their jurisdiction.
The ATSIS Home Ownership scheme aims to reduce the disparity between the rate of home ownership in Indigenous communities and that in the wider Australian community. The rate of home ownership for Indigenous family and lone-person households was estimated in the 2001 census to be 32%. This compares with a national non-Indigenous figure of 71%.
ATSIS provides home loans at concessional interest rates to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. The scheme targets low income Indigenous families with the capacity to repay a long-term loan, but who have difficulty obtaining finance from traditional lending institutions. The loan portfolio administered by ATSIS includes 3,735 loans valued at $327m. In 2002-03 about 537 new loans were provided.
The Australian Government, through the Department of Health and Ageing, 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 Residential aged care program in Income and welfare).
Under the Commonwealth/State Disability Agreement, the Government 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 Support for people with a disability in Income and welfare). Areas such as advocacy, and research and development, continue to be a responsibility of both levels of government.