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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 1999-2000 was $58, compared to $150 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 1999-2000, 402,000 households (6% of all households) were living in public housing; of these, about 82% 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 (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 Commonwealth 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 2002, there were 943,877 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 2002 was $253 per fortnight while the average Rent Assistance received was $72 per fortnight.
A large proportion of Rent Assistance customers are either lone persons or sole parents. In June 2002, 54% of Rent Assistance customers were single without children, 23% were single with children, 15% 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 2000-01 almost $80m was provided through these arrangements.
Table 8.22 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 - see footnote (a) to table 7.7 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 2001-02, the AIHW’s Supported Accommodation and Crisis Services Unit published the 2000-01 SAAP national data collection report (AIHW 2001a). The report showed that 91,200 clients were provided with support or supported accommodation through SAAP in Australia in 2000-01. These contacts comprised a total of 168,200 occasions of support in 2000-01. For 20% of support periods the main reason for seeking assistance was either usual accommodation unavailable or eviction/previous accommodation ended.
Nationally, males aged 25 years and over presenting alone at SAAP agencies accounted for the largest proportion of all support periods (34%), followed by 19% for female clients with children. Overall, 6% of support periods were for couples with or without children, while males with children accounted for 1% of all support periods. Indigenous Australians constituted 16% of SAAP clients and on average had more support periods than other clients.
For clients who specifically 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 21% after. The proportion of support periods in which clients were renting privately also increased (from 17% before support to 26% after) (AIHW 2001a).
Housing assistance program for Indigenous Australians
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) administers a number of programs to improve the living environment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Its second largest program 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 2001-02, CHIP expenditure totalled $240m, of which around half went to the provision of housing. Over 500 houses were purchased/constructed and over 1,100 upgraded/renovated. The program has a particular focus on environmental health-related infrastructure through a specific sub-program called the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (NAHS). NAHS projects are generally large-scale projects targeting priority housing and infrastructure including power, water and waste removal, mainly in rural and remote Indigenous communities. In 2001-02 more than $90m in grant funds was provided under NAHS.
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. The CHINS 2001 report, which was released in May 2002, provides a comprehensive picture on 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, which also receive earmarked Indigenous housing funds from the Aboriginal Rental Housing Program ($91m per annum) of Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS).
The Commonwealth Government, through FaCS and ATSIC, has been implementing bilateral housing agreements with state and territory governments to maximise program efficiency and effectiveness and to better coordinate all housing programs specific to Indigenous people. At 30 June 2002, agreements had been signed with the Northern Territory, Western Australia, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Queensland, while negotiations with Tasmania and Victoria are continuing.
In December 1999, the Agreement on National Indigenous Housing Information was signed by the Chief Executive Officers of the Commonwealth and state and territory agencies administering Indigenous housing assistance (AIHW 2000b). The ABS and the AIHW are also signatories to the agreement and the AIHW provides secretariat support. The agreement provides a framework to improve how outcomes for Indigenous housing are measured, with a focus on developing national data sets.
Following the establishment in 2001-02 of the Housing Ministers' Advisory Council's Standing Committee on Indigenous Housing, the National Indigenous Housing Information Implementation Committee (NIHIIC) now reports directly to this Standing Committee. The Standing Committee has responsibility for the implementation of Housing Ministers' 10-year statement Building a better future: Indigenous Housing to 2010. The development of data is one of the key implementation areas in the Standing Committee's work plan.
In 2001-02 the ABS and the AIHW worked with agencies responsible for Indigenous housing assistance at the Commonwealth and state/territory level to develop an Indigenous Housing Information Management Strategy and Action Plan. The strategy and action plan represent an important first stage in the process of the Standing Committee and NIHIIC developing administrative data for national Indigenous housing.
National Indigenous housing reforms
The Commonwealth State Working Group on Indigenous Housing developed processes to coordinate a national effort, and provide a valuable forum for ATSIC, the Commonwealth and the states to share information and strategies. This Group is now superseded by the Standing Committee on Indigenous Housing.
Agreement has been achieved in a number of key areas including:
The Commonwealth and State Housing Ministers and the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, in May 2001, agreed on a 10-year plan to improve Indigenous housing outcomes, Building a Better Future: Indigenous Housing to 2010. Strategies to achieve these outcomes will include: identifying and addressing unmet housing need; improving the capacity of IHOs; involving communities in planning and delivery; and achieving safe, healthy and sustainable housing.
In line with the agreed outcomes, all funding agencies, including the State Housing Authorities, will be developing strategies to achieve the agreed outcomes within their jurisdiction. This will include the development of criteria for capital and recurrent funding and, in particular, strategies for ensuring that IHOs achieve effective and efficient management practices.
The ATSIC 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 Aboriginal family and lone-person households was estimated in the 2001 Census to be 32%. This compares with a national non-Indigenous figure of 71%.
ATSIC provides home loans at concessional interest rates to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. The Home Ownership scheme targets low income 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 ATSIC includes 3,824 loans valued at $316m. In 2001-02 about 494 new loans were provided.
The Commonwealth 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 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 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.
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 2001b) 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: