Housing accessibility is as common a conversational topic as the weather here in regional Victoria, as people struggle to find and secure affordable, high quality and stable rental and social housing, or juggle increasing mortgage payments with food, medical and daily living expenses. 

Even though the connections between housing and health seem complex, the current housing crisis is showing up with alarming clarity the feedback loops between access (or a lack thereof) to secure, affordable, climate-safe and socially connected housing and mental and physical health. 

Accessible, affordable, socially connected and climate-safe housing is not just about “having a roof over one’s head” and the most basic of protections from the elements. It’s the basis for feeling secure, safe and dignified in our existence in the community. It’s the keystone to being able to participate fully in our society, as a healthy and functional individual, a family member, a worker, a volunteer and an active, valued member of the community. It’s the foundation for feeling connected to the people around us. Accessible, affordable, socially connected and climate-safe housing is what gives us a feeling of agency in our lives. 

It’s a basic human right. Or it should be.  

But at the moment, some people in our communities have greater access to, and security of, housing than others, and this access is heavily influenced by the power structures and interconnecting social, economic, political and cultural systems that underlie individual and community identities. Interconnecting structures such as gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, indigeneity, ability, age, life stage, geography, migration status, religion, for example, heavily (and sometimes almost invisibly) impact the way we relate with each other, think about each other, access (and allow access to) resources and frame our cultural narratives around issues like housing.  

Along with these intersectional experiences of the housing system, it has become increasingly difficult to reconcile “housing-as-human-right” with the profit-driven realities of our existing housing system.  

This is exactly why Women’s Health Goulburn North East will be focusing on housing in the coming months as we prepare a regional feminist housing policy to guide our advocacy work and, hopefully, change the way we think about, talk about and create policy around housing in our region, state and nation. 

We’re glad to see our Federal Member for Indi, Helen Haines, taking some of these issues to federal parliament as MPs debate the Housing Australia Future Fund this week. WHGNE was proud to provide research assistance in support of Dr Haines’ advocacy for housing reform.

The Housing Australia Future Fund, is slated to support the construction of 20,000 new social housing dwellings – 4000 of which will be allocated to women and children impacted by family and domestic violence and older women at risk of homelessness – as well as building 10,000 new “affordable housing dwellings, including for frontline workers.” 

These are worthy plans, and we’ll be watching and advocating to ensure regional and rural communities like ours are explicitly included in the conversation and the unfolding of these plans. However, the Future Fund is just the beginning when it comes to addressing the housing crisis.  

We already know that other measures are urgently needed to transform housing from “profit-creating asset” to universally accessible human right and basic service. Measures like: 

  • a national plan to build a rights-based rental system and support tenants via increased rent assistance, a freeze on rent increases and higher inclusive- and climate-safe design standards for rental properties; 
  • increased social and affordable housing stock in regional Victoria, ensuring such housing is located close to services, facilities and the places social networks are cultivated; 
  • funding increases for homelessness and housing support services, particularly those that support women, Indigenous people, people living with disability and regional communities; and 
  • other, more holistic gender equity measures to ensure that women are not economically discriminated against throughout the life stages – better parental leave schemes, pay equality, domestic violence responses, closing the superannuation gender gap.

We also wonder how rethinking the taxation settings – capital gains tax and negative gearing – that underpin our existing profit-driven housing system might lead us towards a housing system centred in equity and care? What might an Australian Housing First policy, modelled on such a policy in Finland, look like, and how might it support people experiencing housing stress and homelessness in our own communities?

Might it be possible to decommodify housing altogether?! 

As we continue to explore the experiences of housing in our region, and what housing-as-human-right actually might look like, we’ll be considering these and other “big picture” housing questions and inviting you to join us in mulling over the multitude of possible answers! For now, join us in keeping your eyes on the debate unfolding in federal parliament.