Radio Interview with Aaron Stevens – Tasmania Talks – Tuesday 15 December 2020

TOPICS: Social Housing; homelessness in Northern Tasmania.

AARON STEVENS, HOST: Yesterday we heard about the numerous issues facing the future of housing in Tasmania including public housing and the lack of rental properties available for tenants. Jason Clare is the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness and is in Launceston today meeting with local organisations and community groups about social housing and homelessness in our state. Jason, great to talk to you. Thanks for your time. 
STEVENS: Tell us about your visit.
CLARE: Yesterday, I was over at City Mission talking to the guys there who been housing homeless men in the peak of the pandemic. They’ve done some great work at Newnham and right here in the city as well, helping get blokes off the street, helping to make sure that the pandemic didn’t spread across Tasmania like we’ve seen it happening in other states. The scary thing in the newspapers today, I’m just reading The Examiner right now, is the prediction that homelessness is going to go through the roof next year as the JobKeeper payment ends in March and the JobSeeker payment goes back to 40 bucks a day. There’s predictions that homelessness could jump here in Launceston by about 17 per cent next year. That’s bad news if it happens, we’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that it doesn’t. 
STEVENS: Now we just need to pause for a second and consider that figure – 17 per cent.
CLARE: It’s huge. These are not numbers, these are people. If the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that there’s a lot of Aussies who but for a couple of paychecks can end up on the street. They’re only a couple of paychecks away from being evicted. We have the eviction moratorium, that worked. But if people can’t afford to pay the rent when JobKeeper ends, and then they’re back on $40 a day after March next year, then what this report is saying is a lot more people could find themselves getting evicted and a lot more people can end up on the street. 
STEVENS: And once again, we’ve spoken about it before, but it’s even the stress of just finding somewhere to live let alone whether you can afford it or not. You should also be able to find somewhere to live and the basic human rights should be a roof over your head. 
CLARE: That’s exactly right, and whether it’s on the street or whether it’s sleeping on a friend’s couch, if you don’t have a safe place it’s hard to get your head in the right place to be able to get another job, make sure that you get the kids dressed and off to school and fed properly. The guys at City Mission made the point to me yesterday, just having a roof over your head for three days can help sort you out. They told me the story of a fellow who was sleeping in a car in Launceston. They found him, brought him into the mission, they were able to give him a hot meal and a couple of nights in a proper bed, found out that he was a chef, were able to get him a job interview at Georgetown, he’s got a job now. So, those sorts of services are critical. They change people’s lives for the better. The risk we’ve got next year is that even though the pandemic is receding, and fingers crossed the worst of the virus is behind us, the economy is still weak. We’re still expecting unemployment here in Tassie to be over 8 per cent. That means a lot of people relying on government support, and if that disappears, then there’s a lot more people that are going to struggle to pay the rent and keep that roof over their head. 
STEVENS: As you’ve just told us, and something for everyone to remember, there’s always hope, there’s always direction, there’s always help.
CLARE: Exactly right and City Mission is just one example of that. I’m catching up with the team from Anglicare and the Baptist Church here in town today as well. It’s about knowing who to talk to, knowing who to reach out to and to ask and help from. Often that’s a big part of the problem. A lot of people who have asked for help this year, whether it’s homelessness services or food vouchers and help with getting a meal, are people that have never asked for help before in their life. A lot of Aussies who lined up at the front of Centerlink this year have never received the payment from Centrelink before. It’s been that sort of year, and my worry is that next year could be even harder with unemployment still high and all that support ending. 
STEVENS: So, what have you been up to this morning?
CLARE: This morning we’ve started by talking to you and then we’re off to visit some social housing here in Launceston. Part of the problem is we don’t have enough homes for people who need help. Social housing is designed to be that safety net that catches you when you need help. We pride ourselves in Australia on having safety nets but unfortunately what’s been made clear this year is we don’t have enough social housing. Also the social housing we do have is often in pretty poor nick. The place I’m going to visit is a place that’s just riddled with mould so bad it’s not a safe place to live in. I’ve been calling on the government in Canberra to put more money into fixing some of the rundown social housing right across the country. It would create work for tradies in almost every town and suburb across the country and create work pretty quickly, and create more places for people to be able to have a roof over their head in a time like we’ve had this year.
STEVENS: How do we fix these shortages? I mean, there was a meeting in Hobart yesterday that talked about putting a cap on Airbnb. Is that the kind of thing we need? Or is there more to it?
CLARE: I don’t think there’s one silver bullet. Obviously we’ve got to look at short stays, it’s been a particularly bad problem in Hobart, particularly bad in Tasmania. But it’s also about making sure that we keep the supply of housing construction going. One of the things that we were very worried about earlier this year was that the housing construction industry would collapse, partly because of the recession, partly because there’s no migration. That’s starting to pick up again and that’s a good thing. But we also have a chronic under supply of social housing. It’s why I said we need to build more and repair the social housing we’ve got. It was disappointing that in the Federal Budget, they’ve spent $100 billion on infrastructure, but they couldn’t find one cent for social housing. There’s no lack of demand for it. There may be even greater demand next year as homelessness rates go up. That’s why I said that it needs to be worked on there.

I’d also encourage the Tasmanian state government to look at the funds they set aside this year, to help landlords and tenants, where you’ve got a tenant that can’t afford to pay the rent. Funds like this were set up in Tassie, but also set up in other states across the country and haven’t really been used that much. Partly because it was set up in a complicated way where the tenants had to approach the landlord to approach the government. Now, if JobKeeper ends in March and JobSeeker goes back to $40 a day, and more people are struggling to pay the rent next year, then those funds are going to be desperately needed and we need to make sure that they are easy to access. And more people don’t end up on the street.
STEVENS: Speaking this morning with the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Jason Clare. Jason, I want to share this call with you that we took yesterday, from Sally from Newstead. Have a listen to this:
VOICE OF SALLY NEWSTEAD, CALLER: There are suburbs where people on the housing list have decided are not appropriate. There’s massive lots of empty houses in those areas. Now, some of them might be of the older kind and maybe need rewiring. But if the government rewired them to these people and offered them up, as a sell to buy. And then they’d have something that they can strive towards. And, you know, they can use it as a stepping stone to get bigger and better.
STEVENS: So they’re just empty homes?
CALLER: Rocherlea, Ravenswood, Mayfield.
STEVENS: So are they old Housing Commission homes? And they’ve just been left vacant ever since?
CALLER: For a long time, and people on the list don’t want to go to those areas. All they need is just rewire them, offer them to buy, or sell to buy and it gives them a stepping stone and it has to be better than a tent.
STEVENS: Jason, are you aware of these properties? Sally was saying that she knows of 50 or so.
CLARE: I heard that yesterday. I’d want to know more about whether these are places that need a tradie to come in and fix them before people can come and live in them. The fact that you’ve got people who are sleeping on the street here in Launceston and you’ve got an empty house, tells me that something’s gone badly wrong.
STEVENS: Absolutely.
CLARE: If it is the case, that you’ve got homes that need fixing before people can move into them, then we should be speeding that up and getting them fixed so you can put a roof over the head of people who need it.
STEVENS: Will you look into that for us?
CLARE: I’m going to make some inquiries about that today, so I can get a better understanding of that. I know that there’s about 100,000 home right across the country that are either not fit for living or just need basic repairs. Fixing mould, fixing tiles, fixing doors, so that people can live in them. It creates work in the local in the local community for tradies and it also creates a home for people that are living and if you’ve got people sleeping on the streets or sleeping on a friend’s couch, and you’ve got an empty house. That’s just nuts.
STEVENS: Especially as Sally said, if you were to make it available on a rent-to-buy type scheme, it’s vacant at the moment. Let someone move in there, let someone move towards a brighter future.
CLARE: Yeah, that’s exactly right. When somebody gets a home, whether it’s a government home or community housing more often than not, they make it their own. They take pride in the place. They look after it. You sometimes hear the negative stories, you don’t hear enough of the good stories. And rent-to-buy is a good model but what we’ve got to make sure of though, is that we’re increasing the amount of public housing and social housing not reducing it over time. Because as these statistics today show, this problem is getting worse, not better. And we need more housing as Australia gets bigger, and the problems associated with homelessness and housing affordability get worse.
STEVENS: Alright, well keep us updated with what you find out.
CLARE: Good on you. Thanks, Aaron. Thank you very much.
STEVENS: Terrific Jason Clare, the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness joining us this morning on Tasmania Talks.