Bushfires compound housing woes … but also present an opportunity

Like many of our sister agencies, Anglicare was on the frontline supporting our communities as the bushfire crisis unfolded across NSW, ACT, Victoria and South Australia this summer.

Brad Braithwaite, who is deputy CEO of Anglicare NSW South, NSW West & ACT, filed this report. (Brad is also on the board of Churches Housing.)

Key bushfire facts:

In NSW alone, there have been…

  • 2,448 homes destroyed
  • 1,013 homes damaged
  • 5,469 outbuilding destroyed

The immediate toll has been horrendous: precious lives taken, thousands of homes destroyed, untold livestock and livelihoods lost, and millions of hectares of native flora and fauna destroyed.

Yet, as we move further into the long and difficult recovery phase, one key issue will consistently occupy our minds – homelessness. The sheer scale of housing loss in this crisis is unprecedented, and as a society our attention will naturally gravitate towards those who have become homeless because of the bushfires.

But what is increasingly occupying the minds of services such as Anglicare, Vinnies and the Salvos is the perilous plight of those who were already homeless or under extreme housing stress before the bushfires.

Will the 5-to-10 year expected wait times for social housing in most coastal communities become 10+ years?  Will already scarce affordable rental accommodation simply become non-existent? As whole communities compete for what little temporary accommodation there is, will even camp sites and caravan parks become a pipe dream to the homeless?

On the south coast, our already stretched specialist homelessness services are struggling to cope, and we are far from alone. What is most concerning is that, whilst everyone is acutely aware of the problem, to date there have been very few suggested solutions. It has all become too hard.

Of course, as our Churches Housing members know all too well, there is no quick fix solution to entrenched housing problems. However, this horrible bushfire event does present an opportunity. As our governments look to support communities to rebuild homes and revitalize their economies, the community housing sector has a prime opportunity to advocate for housing as ‘social infrastructure’.

In response to bushfire devastation and increasingly uncertain economic times, what better way to stimulate the national economy than to build homes for the homeless and vulnerable in our communities?

Let’s seize the moment to make a more sophisticated economic case to government for nation-building investment in social and affordable housing.