Housing ends homelessness

1 August 2019 Anastasia Safioleas

Housing ends homelessness

The pretty white house sits in a crowded cul-de-sac. A trampoline peeks over someone’s backyard fence. An idle basketball ring sits on the street’s turning circle, the perfect place for a quick game that pauses for the inevitable call of “caaaaaaar”. Just a short stroll away is the town centre with a church and local primary school. It’s quiet and idyllic.

The pretty white house is Jema’s new home. Soon she’ll move in with her partner Romel and their 18-month-old daughter, Isla. Standing in her new backyard, still muddy from construction, there’s a distinct sense of optimism mingled with disbelief. Growing up in and out of foster homes and residential care, she’s just been given the keys to the first home she can truly call her own.

“When I was young, my mum became a bit mentally unwell, so I had gone to stay with my grandparents in Marysville to give my mum a break,” she explains. “There was an opportunity I could live with them, but then Black Saturday came through and they passed.” She pauses. “I was 10. I had no family that could take me in. It was a hard time…”

She eventually found herself in residential care and at 17 was given a housing commission apartment in inner-city Melbourne. Jema has been there for four years but, while grateful for the apartment, social housing has come with its own particular set of issues. The lease means Romel cannot reside with Jema and their daughter; he currently lives with his mother in the outer Melbourne suburbs. So they tried to look for a family home.

“It’s so hard to get into housing,” says Romel, who works part-time as a cleaner. “We tried saving but it was going to take forever. I’d probably be dead by then. And renting is so expensive – the average was $350 per week.”

Their three-bedroom house in Yea was built by Habitat for Humanity. It comes with an interest-free mortgage, based on 95 per cent of the market value of the completed home; and it’s capped at 30 per cent of the couple’s income, meaning they won’t fall into housing stress. The Big Issue’s Homes for Homes granted $40,000 towards the build.

Their new home is an innovative example of a community-funded solution to the crisis of housing affordability in Australia, and part of a trend that sees an increasing number of not-for-profits trying to meet the shortfall.

Homes for Homes raises funds to increase the supply of social and affordable housing for a wide range of disadvantaged Australians. Property owners agree to make a tax-deductible donation – 0.1 per cent of the property sale price – when they sell their property.The funds are granted to housing providers who are building affordable homes.

In 2018, Homes for Homes granted $500,000 to fund a range of social and affordable housing projects – Jema and Romel are the first recipients to move in.
At the official handover to Jema and her family, Habitat for Humanity’s Philip Curtis bluntly described the scenario confronting low-income earners: “For many, paying the rent means they cannot afford to eat, see a doctor, have a prescription filled, pay an energy bill, or pay for transport. Hard choices need to be made almost weekly in order to survive. We’re facing a crisis.”

Jema is all too aware of the significance of this pathway out of poverty, and into home ownership.
“It’s going to be life-changing for my family,” she says. “[It’s a] massive change to be able to live in our own home.”

» Anastasia Safioleas (@Anast) is a Contributing Editor of The Big Issue.

» First appeared in Ed#592

» Read more about Australia’s affordable housing crisis in the current edition of The Big Issue. To participate in Homes for Homes visit homesforhomes.org.au.