Housing crisis impacts Jewish Community too

January 30, 2017 by J-Wire
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The disturbing images of homeless people in Melbourne, the world’s most arguably livable city, have generated considerable media coverage and intense community discussion about how best to deal with the issue.

From:  Hugh Cattermole & Melinda Kidgell

With 220 Jewish people in Victoria presumed homeless and 130 presumed at risk of homelessness on any given night (Professor Andrew Markus, Monash University), the Jewish community is far from immune to the problem. Jewish Care assists people in our community experiencing housing difficulties to find safe and affordable accommodation, where they can feel connected to the Jewish community.

Hugh Cattermole

Jewish Care addresses the root causes of homelessness, and provides transitional housing support to those experiencing homelessness, or those at risk of homelessness. Last year, Jewish Care housed 165 adults and 36 children.

The organisation has developed a range of responses to keeping people housed. We do this through our financial counselling and emergency aid programs that actively assist people to maintain their accommodation, preventing them from dropping out of private rental homes and into homelessness. For those in our housing program, we provide proactive support through our service coordination program, which focuses on addressing the factors that contribute to the person/s becoming homeless in the first place. This wrap-around individualised support enables some of the most vulnerable individuals to have the best chance of sustaining their tenancy once they are housed.

The issues raised by other Victorian housing service providers parallel the experience of being on the front line of the current affordable housing crisis in the Victorian Jewish community. We also urgently need more housing – the numbers just don’t add up. There have always been long waiting times for public and community housing, however what we have seen escalate in the previous 12 months is the numbers of people in the Victorian Jewish community being squeezed out of the private rental market. This has had a significant impact on the poor and those on a fixed or low-income.

Melinda Kidgell

Over the past four weeks alone, Jewish Care has supported seven families and three individuals who have had their private rental agreements terminated. Once these people are squeezed out of private rental, in many instances they will not be able to compete for the very few affordable rental properties still available within the community.

In the current market, those who have private rental arrangements or who are sustaining mortgages are paying 50%-55% of their income on their housing costs, which leaves limited funds to meet basic material needs of food, education, clothing, gas, and electricity.

In the absence of having additional affordable housing stock, we simply will not be able to keep up with the growing demand.

Another issue that other service providers have highlighted is how accommodation offered to those in need is sometimes unsuitable for them. We know the strength of our community partly stems from the proximity to vital infrastructure that supports our connections, including schools, synagogues and community hubs. When an offer of housing doesn’t take this into account, it may be incompatible for our community members in need.

Part of Jewish Care’s efforts to increase affordable housing is through our $180 million capital investment campaign for 6 major projects. Subject to this fundraising, one of these 6 projects will see almost $13 million invested in the creation of both new and refurbished housing units over the next 3 years.

When private rental properties have become unaffordable, and public housing is unavailable or unsuitable, the solution for housing the Jewish community at the scale and in the timeframe required will only come from the community. We need to invest thoughtfully and proactively in housing options that address all parts of the housing process, which must include both the direct provision of social and affordable housing in the heart of the Jewish community, and considered interventions that address the social impact of the current private rental market.

*Hugh Cattermole is Chief Operating Officer and Melinda Kidgell is Program Manager, Client Services at Jewish Care.

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