Our Big Challenge – Housing those in Need

Princess Royal Harbour, Albany, Western Australia.

Albany, where I live, is on the banks of Princess Royal Harbour, one of the great natural harbours in the Southern Hemisphere.  This little historical town with its Mediterranean climate and a population of around 37,000 is the centre for the Great Southern Region of Western Australia.

The Great Southern Region with a population of about 60,000 stretches 200 km along the magnificent south coast  of Western Australia and for about the same distance inland.

Everywhere in the so-called Developed World homelessness is increasing — people are roaming the streets with nowhere to live  — and the Great Southern Region and Albany Town are no different to the rest of the world.

Reality in 2021.

In May 2018, here in Camelot, it was estimated that at least 200 people were homeless, maybe 300 .

It was reported that they were living in the sand dunes and anywhere where it was dry and in winter, warm. Men women and children were living in cars and couch surfing and where they could find somewhere, they would squat.

Those disturbing numbers were revealed in a ‘Feasibility Study’, commissioned by a number of businesses and organisations in Albany and the region, together with the Town of Albany and the Great Southern Development Commission, the regional arm of the West Australian Government.

The aim of the study was to ‘investigate developing crisis accommodation for the at risk population in the Great Southern Region.’

The report was excellent. It detailed the challenges the community faced in helping the homeless in the Great Southern Region. It identified a number of realistic and achievable answers. The problem was then and still is, funding. There is no money.

Therefore, surprise, surprise, nothing has really changed in the 3 years since that report was written, if anything the homeless numbers have increased, as they have all around  Western Australia.

The  crisis centres in the region are still full and inadequate. Some don’t have the money to stay open all year round.

Optus Stadium Perth Western Australia. Total cost $1.6 billion.

Why is it in our privileged world we can find millions even billions to provide sports facilities for everyone, many of which are only used once or twice a week, yet we struggle to find the money to put a roof over the heads, to provide shelter and warmth for the homeless, for the destitute?

The temperature as I write is 12.5C and there were hailstones 10cm deep in Albany this morning after a night of thunder, lightning and torrential rain. There is snow on the nearby Stirling Range — what the hell it must have been like trying to sleep rough or in a car last night, I cannot imagine. Probably hell.

Governments are always claiming they don’t have the money for this and for that except if it is for something that will attract votes. The homeless will never elect a government but that is no excuse to ignore study after study that show there are big savings available to government if only they would address the challenge of housing the homeless and not, cynically, have their eyes on the next election. This is one study:

In the 12 months after the 44 clients in this Perth-based study were housed, emergency admissions were reduced by 57% and overnight stays by 53%. The overall health-care saving was A$404,028.

Here’s another – note this is after housing was provided:

Even after deducting the cost of housing, a 2011 Australian study of 268 participants found savings of $2,182 per person after 12 months.

There have been so many of these studies, all have the same result. There is a return on investment when the homeless are housed which is as good or better than any investment governments may make and that is just the dollars. The improvement in the condition, the return on  the human capital is immeasurable.

So why don’t governments, both state and federal do something positive about the national shame of homelessness? We have a federal government which has just brought down a budget that has put the country into debt for decades, all designed they tell us, to provide funds so that Australia can recover from the Covid19 pandemic and build an infrastructure and a labour force for the future –a future, that, obviously, doesn’t include caring for the homeless.

Andrew Forrest of FMG celebrating iron ore prices

The Government of Western Australia is rolling in money as the price of iron ore sky rockets and other minerals, like gold, not far behind. Thirty per cent of the gross income of the WA Government is currently derived from royalties from the minerals being dug up and exported. So the question is why can’t some of this windfall go into homes for the 10,000 who are homeless in Western Australia?

The Story Gets Worse.

In addition to the hundreds of people who are homeless  there is a social housing waitlist in the Great Southern of 500, most of whom are in Albany. There are 15,700 families on the social housing waitlist in Western Australia, some 30,000 to 40,000 people.

That means that  between 1,000 and 1,500 people in the Great Southern are paying rents which they cannot afford and are therefore in the awful predicament of  ‘rent stress’.

Social or Community Housing is for those on low to moderate income and for those with a disability. There is an international standard which states that if anyone is paying more than 30% of their household income in rent then they are deemed to be under ‘financial or rent stress’.

Experience, not just in Albany, but around the world shows that when there is ‘rent stress’ the first item to be cut from the budget is food. Just ask Foodbank, ask the Salvos and the Vinnies about the demands on their services to provide for those, who after paying all their bills, have no money left  for food.

In the UK they have recognised this problem and free school lunches are provided for all children in grades 1 and 2, and to others where there is a social need. What a great idea and I’ll bet there are kids in Albany who wouldn’t mind a good feed at lunch time. What a caring way to ensure that our precious children grow to their potential during those early years and of course, don’t eat cheap junk food.

There is another factor in Albany that digs into the family budget and that is the lack of public transport and like everywhere, the lowest rents are those farthest away from the CBD, so having a car is a must and paying for it can be a problem and another drain on the family budget. That’s why so many turn up at Foodbank driving a car, it’s a necessity.

Our rural towns are shrinking, shops are boarded up the banks have gone and as the farms get bigger, big machinery with self steer and satellite navigation is replacing people. Increasingly people who have spent many years living and working on farms are now migrating to the regional centres. The majority are at the time of life when retraining is necessary and difficult, so it takes them time to settle into a new life.

There is no safety net for these people many of whom only have their furniture, a car and their superannuation available to them, the latter many years away, so they have no option but to accept a period of low wages as they retrain. Unable to fund a mortgage the only option is to rent, which invariably means ‘rent stress’.

As house prices escalate all over the country and rents increase, they are forecast to increase by another 20% in WA in the next 12 months, more and more people, people vital to the functioning of society and through no fault of their own are finding there is nowhere to rent and when there is, the rent will put them also into ‘rent stress’.

A few years ago there was a report from the UK discussing the need for social houses for ‘key workers’ in the London area found that ‘key workers’ like nurses, police, council employees  (garbage collectors, parks and garden workers etc), bus drivers (3000 vacancies) and the like, could no longer afford the rents that were being demanded.

Job vacancy rates were becoming an embarrassment for councils especially when they couldn’t put enough police on the beat, enough nurses into the hospitals and care homes and when the garbage was being left in the streets.

Some key workers had tried moving to the outer fringes of south east London where rents were lower, only to find the costs to get to work and the time it took on public transport negated what they saved on rent,  it became too hard and they quit and moved to a cheaper area.

‘Anthony Scantlebury from the GMB London Ambulance Service comments on a typical emergency workers daily routine:

“If you finish at 7pm in the evening, before you get home and get yourself sorted out, it is probably 10 o’clock at night. And then you need to leave home at half past four in the morning again to start work at seven.”

He continued “that cuts down on your sleep time and you get progressively more tired as the week goes on.”

Additionally, Ken Marsh, the chairman of metropolitan police federation has noted that whilst the very nature of policing has always been challenging, stress levels are the highest they have ever been, with the average shift being 10.5 hours. If one takes into consideration the commute of the officer from outside of London, this can lead to a 14-hour day.’

When I read the article I thought, that is London and their high prices, prices far in excess of prices in Australia and particularly in Perth – so it will never happen here.

https://www.ahuri.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0026/67607/AHURI-Final-Report-355-Housing-key-workers-scoping-challenges-aspirations-and-policy-responses.pdf

How wrong I was, the same challenge is now emerging not only in the big cities in Australia where the median house price is over $1 million and out of reach for nurses and police on $60,000 to $70,000 a year, but the problem is now spreading to some regional towns like Albany, where the median house price is $500,000.  There are houses in the $400,000 to $450,000 range however the mortgage on those houses over 20 years and with a $20,000 deposit incurs monthly repayments of about $1,700 which is more expensive than the cost of renting in the Great Southern at about $1,450 a month.

We Know the Extent of the Problem.

On the 27th and 28th of March 2021  Anglicare Western Australia (WA)  took a Snapshot to capture the number of properties suitable for people on low income. The results were disturbing to say the least. It found that the total number of rental properties throughout Western Australia on that weekend was 3,695, just half the number that were  available on the same weekend in 2020. For the South West it was down by 30%. The housing market boomed and landlords it seems, sold their investments, perhaps to help with the cost of the pandemic?

For those landlords left in the market the laws of supply and demand came into play and in spite of inflation and wage growth being at almost zero, the rates in the metro area increased by 16% from $370 to $430 per week, in the South West and Great Southern the increase was 12% from $330 to $370 and in the North West the rates had increased by 17% pushing the weekly rent to between $470 and $550.

That weekend in Western Australia:

  • Only 1% of rental properties in the state were available for rent. So 36 properties.
  •  98% of the properties available were not affordable to those on a minimum wage. Really none especially for the young.
  • 15,700 households were on the waitlist in Western Australia (around 30,000 people)
  • 8000 people were living in temporary accommodation, couch surfing, squatting, living in cars
  • 1000+ people were sleeping rough
What is Being Done to Meet the Need?
Photo: News.com

The story is a bad one for the State  where the Premier has been known to claim  WA is keeping Australia afloat with the boom in mining. In a State where nearly 30% of its gross income comes from mining royalties the lack of social conscience in a Labor government is breathtaking and and runs against the ethos of the party of the working man and woman. This is the record of the WA Government:

  • Over the last three years the number of social housing properties in Western Australia has declined by 1155.
  • Only 119 social housing properties were built in the last 3 years compared to 956 in 2016-17
  • For the period 2017-2020, the West Australian government delivered 224 new social housing homes, but sold off 726 social homes.

If those numbers seem a bit confusing it is because there are others in the business of providing social housing as well as the State Government and logically enough they are referred to as Community Housing Providers (CHPs) who are all not for profit companies.

Community Housing Providers.

In the main Community Housing Providers or CHPs, not for profit companies, in each state, do two things:

  • They manage a portfolio of properties for the State Government.
  • They build their own properties for rent under the same terms and conditions as the properties they manage for the government.

In the commercial rental market landlords only provide accommodation for rent when they can show an acceptable return on their investment. They can also increase the rent on the property when demand is strong, like now and they can, theoretically, reduce the rent to meet an oversupplied market.

Social Housing Perth, Western Australia. WA Government.

The same conditions do not apply to CHPs because they can only charge between 25% and 30% of the household income for rent. Only those with a low to moderate household incomes qualify for a CHP property, so, the CHP knows to within reasonable limits, what income it will derive from every property.

It also knows again within reasonable limits, what it will cost for each property in annual repairs and maintenance.

There are no concessions in the building industry for CHPs. CHPs pay commercial rates for land and they pay the same amount as any developer or builder to have houses built on that land.

What the CHP cannot do is charge a rent, comparable to the market rate which means that the CHP is denied a rate of return comparable to commercial rates, which in turn inhibits their ability to make a profit and put that money to build more houses to meet the ever increasing demands from the most vulnerable people in our community.

Research has shown and has been confirmed by CHPs new housing budgets,  that it is difficult for them to grow and provide homes to meet the ever growing need, without some help from government.

The West Australian Government has shown over the last few years that it isn’t really interested in providing homes for those who need them.

These statistics demand to be repeated again and again.

The state waitlist stands at nearly 18,000. Over the last 3 years the number of social houses in Western Australia has declined by 1,155.  Just 119 social housing properties were built in the last three years, compared with 956 in 2016/17 and over the last five years a total of 945 social housing properties were sold off. There has been a net loss of 502 properties which means the government of WA has sold more properties than it has built.

Where to From Here?

It is evident from their recent performance that the West Australian Government  doesn’t have social housing as a major item on their budget. It is also plain as day, that the Federal Government don’t know anything about the subject so they care even less. In the billions of dollars in the federal budget not one shekel has been allocated to one of the biggest challenges facing Australia today and that is housing the homeless and the needy.

Why is it that our normally rapacious governments don’t have any appetite to find homes for the homeless and those under rent stress, when the financial gain to them is substantial and proven? Do they not want the pressure on the health service reduced? Do they not want more money to put into medical research, or aged care?

Money is as cheap now as it will ever be, CHPs are in a good position to borrow, to build to meet the needs of our most disadvantaged, what these not for profit organisations need is some understanding and some help not only from governments but from society in general, from philanthropists in particular, no matter how big or small, to help them build a solid foundation to build more houses well into the future. The problem is only getting bigger and it will not go away without a huge effort from every sector of society.

There is a great story in the Bible of the Good Samaritan. A man was beaten by robbers and left for dead. A priest came by and passed on the other side, so to did a Levite, but a Samaritan crossed the road and gave aid to the man, put him on his donkey, cared for him at an inn and when he left he gave the innkeeper money to take care of the man and said that if more was spent then he would pay it on his return.

I am not an outwardly religious person, but I have remembered that story because it is all about care, care for neighbours, treating neighbours like you would want to be treated. It is time that pressure was put on our governments by the voters of this land to take care of  our neighbours, those who deserve a roof over their heads and enough money to pay for food.

Think about it tonight when you have dinner and then later go to a warm and clean bed.

Note: I am a director of a Community Housing Provider. The views expressed here I mine and mine alone and not necessarily those of the CHP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Must Not Give Our Birthright Away.

Henry David Thoreau, circa 1850. ‘I trust that I shall never thus sell my birthright for a mess of pottage.’

For the sake of future generations, Australia must not give away its birthright for  a mess of pottage.

I wrote the following after a long  on-line discussion.  It was the culmination of a larger debate about the real cost of renewable energy. I have tidied up a few phrases for clarity.

Thank you for your considered replies. I am in my eighties. My profession is agriculture from farming to science to agribusiness.

I have watched this country change substantially over the last 50 years or so. That we have largely lost our ability to be self-sufficient in some of the vital parts of our economy concerns me greatly.

Manufacturing jobs have been exported, it started way back when, when it was to Japan because their labour was cheaper than ours. Then there were others others like Taiwan, Singapore, Korea and Russia for wool. Now we have China.

Fifty years ago , even twenty years ago we were self sufficient in oil, now our position is strategically fragile because the majority of our oil has to make two trips through the South China Sea and there is tension on that sea as China builds artificial islands.

There was a time we were self sufficient in food, now we rely heavily on imports, our food processing and manufacturing industry has fled due, in the main, to high power costs, much of it has gone to NZ, where they now process Chinese produce and then send it here — we eat frozen Chinese fruit and vegetables.

Continue reading “We Must Not Give Our Birthright Away.”

It doesn’t make sense.

In July of this year a $22 billion proposal by Sun Cable Pty Ltd, a company which is backed by by two Australia  billionaires Fortesque Metals founder Andrew Forrest and and Atlassian co-founder (with Scot Farquhar) Mike Cannon-Brookes was  granted ‘major project status’ by the Australian Government to investigate the building in the Northern Territory of a massive 10-gigawatt solar farm (40 million panels) coupled to a 30Gwh storage facility, which I presume means a big battery.

Continue reading “It doesn’t make sense.”

The China Paradox and Wolf Warrior Diplomacy.

China buys 30% of  Australia’s exports.

The news that China accounts for thirty percent of Australia agricultural exports demonstrates how reliant the Australian rural economy has become on the People’s Republic of China.

That news caused some to question the wisdom of the marketers of Australian food and wine in placing such a heavy reliance on just one customer.

That is valid question, but  did you know that  China buys 30% of everything Australia exports.

Agricultural exports are just a mirror image of what is going on in the rest of the country. In 2017-18 Australia exported goods and services worth a staggering $123 billion to China equal to 6.7% of the Australia Gross Domestic Product.

Continue reading “The China Paradox and Wolf Warrior Diplomacy.”

The Myth of a Level Playing Field.

Albanese calls for a more 'resilient' society | Canberra CityNewsMr Albanese, the Leader of the Australian Labor Party, has a poor grasp of Australian political history.

Mr Albanese recently roundly criticised Treasurer  Josh Frydenberg for channeling Margaret Thatcher  and the policies employed by her to ensure the much needed economic recovery in the UK following Prime Minister James Callaghan and his self inflicted demise in his ‘winter of discontent’ of 1978/79.

Callaghan finally decided to call a General Election in 1979 after the country had been ravaged for years by high inflation and unemployment.  In 1978/79 strikes in both the private and public sectors almost crippled the country.

Uncollected rubbish was left to rot in the streets of London, the dead were not being buried, there was a mounting national shortage of food and fuel due to the truck driver’s refusing to work, which all combined to cause a crisis so bad the government considered declaring a state of emergency and mobilising the troops to take over vital services.

Eventually, after strikes which were violent at times, the unions got the wage increases they wanted but it was a pyrrhic victory for them. The country, the people had had enough of the militant unions shambolically and carelessly wrecking the economy, so when they got the chance they elected Margaret Thatcher to be the first woman to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

In eleven years Margaret Thatcher rebuilt the UK economy and made it world competitive and respected if not liked around the world.

Albanese  rejected what he saw as Frydenberg’s move to Thatcherism in favour his more Keynesian way of more and more government spending to build infrastructure and particularly social housing, for which, admittedly, there is a great need all over Australia.

Does Mr Albanese not know or does it suit his argument not to recognise that Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were the first Australian leaders to employ economic rationalism —  they were the first true disciples of Margaret Thatcher?

They were Thatcherites through and through, they introduced Free Trade Agreements, globalisation and the ‘market economy’ to Australia.

It was under their government  that we started to see the demise of the Australian manufacturing and food processing industry — all in the name of being ‘world competitive’.

It was also the start of a deliberate campaign to reduce the political power of agriculture in Australia.

Continue reading “The Myth of a Level Playing Field.”

Is the Future of Wheat Growing in Australia a Catch 22?

The Story so Far.

The question that should be asked is whether large swathes of wheat growing land in Australia and particularly in Western Australia will be viable in the future? Because if the answer is no, then now is the time to start looking at the ways  and the means for restructuring Australia’s wheat belt.

There are two conflicting forces at work. Two opinions based on two areas of science:

1. Soil amelioration is becoming popular in Western Australia in an effort to improve crop yields. It is expensive, in some cases very expensive. There are yield gains to be had, how long the gains last is open for debate because they vary site by site. There are also problems particularly with soil stability and structure.

2. Climate scientists are predicting falls in crop yields in Western Australia over the next twenty years to levels which I predict will make it uneconomic to grow wheat given the year on year rise in costs and the decline in the real price of wheat over the last fifty years.

Continue reading “Is the Future of Wheat Growing in Australia a Catch 22?”

PROJECT IRON BOOMERANG

Lang Hancock’s 1979 Queensland-Pilbara Rail-steel Proposal comes to life in 2020. 

Lang Hancock 1980.

On the morning of Sunday June 11th 1975, passengers aboard Lang Hancock’s 70th Birthday “Wake Up Australia!” jumbo-jet flight will be flying due east from the Pilbara towards Alice Springs over some of the most desolate country in the world. Below them will be the proposed route of the Pilbara-Queensland Railway — the visionary scheme which may within a decade forge a link of steel across the north of Australia. Here Lang Hancock puts a compelling case for a project which can do at least as much for Australia as the Snowy River Scheme; and without soaking the taxpayer.

We have our heads well and truly in the sand. How do we dig them out?’

Lang Hancock in 1975.

Now in 2020 Lang Hancock’s dreams are well on their way to becoming reality.

Lang Hancock discovered iron ore in the Pilbara in 1952 and defied the predictions from officialdom that Australia would be importing iron ore by 1965, instead by that time he was supplying half the Japanese market. By 1975 Australia was the biggest exported of iron ore in the world.

 Here are a few extracts from a presentation by a man with an extraordinary vision: Continue reading “PROJECT IRON BOOMERANG”

Building for the Future

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Winston Churchill.

There now seems to be a general consensus within the community and especially within the agricultural community, that Australia’s reliance on China has lulled us all into a false sense of security. We have been complacent. We have been happy to accept the contribution China has made to our standard of living by making available to us a range of ‘goods’ at prices that have been more than acceptable.

We have been more than happy to receive their tourists in their tens of  thousands and a similar number of students without whom some of our universities, especially the regional ones, cannot manage. There could well be cold economic winds this winter on some campuses.

China has infiltrated our lives to the extent that there is an argument that we cannot now manage without them.

But manage without them we must; we must change. China’s aggression towards Australia is a sober reminder that they are a communist totalitarian regime intent upon the control and subjugation of others including Australia.

Continue reading “Building for the Future”

Beer – Beef and China.

“An economic rule states that one should never underestimate the inability of free marketers to use common sense,”

K J Galbraith 2006. Lincoln Journal.

One of the interesting aspects of the current debate on the behaviour of China towards Australia, after Australia asked for an enquiry  into the source of Covid19, is that many of those who are well known as journalists and commentators, and even some hopelessly naive Australian politicians, and we have our share of them, have shown most clearly that they know little to nothing about the art of negotiation or as many of us know it by another name ‘bloodless warfare.’

It is well known that when it comes to selling their wares farmers around the world are weak, some weaker than others. It is also well known and oft quoted the statement by President J F. Kennedy “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.” These days we would say ‘person’ but the statement remains correct. The question is what have farmers done, particularly in Australia, to redress what is an iniquitous situation?

Continue reading “Beer – Beef and China.”

China friend or ? Episode 2

Preamble.

Since I started this look at China and our reliance on them for some of our vital goods and equipment, as well as our reliance on them to buy our raw materials like coal, iron ore, beef and wine; the relationship between Australia and China has deteriorated considerably.

The outburst by the Ambassador of China, threatening our beef, wine and tourism relationships, simply because our government made a valid request that a pandemic that has brought this world into lock-down should be investigated and the source found, was nothing short of Imperial bullying from the Middle Kingdom.

The United States sent its war ships into the South China Sea a few days ago. Whether in retaliation or not, reports are that China has sunk a Vietnamese small boat, probably fishing; has rammed boats from Malaysia and locked its radar onto a Philippine warship, which is hostile and usually means you are about to be fired on.

This means that China is quite prepared to escalate tensions in the South China Sea in an effort to distract the world away from asking the question China must answer regarding the origin of Corvid19 from Wuhan.

It must be determined whether Covid19 came from the wet market, or escaped from what appears to be a very insecure laboratory in Wuhan. China owes that information to the world.

Continue reading “China friend or ? Episode 2”