A major WEL priority is advocating for affordable housing for women. Together with other advocacy groups, WEL is demanding:
- A gender-responsive national housing strategy to improve women’s housing outcomes, with actions and measurable targets
- Additional social and affordable housing
- Increase in the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 50%
- Increased funding for homelessness services and women’s domestic violence refuges, and rapid access to housing and support.
Australia is facing a housing affordability crisis: older women are the fastest growing group experiencing homelessness, and women and children escaping domestic violence are the largest group. It’s been estimated that the social housing dwellings needed in Australia could grow to almost three quarters of a million by 2036.
Many women experiencing violence make the momentous decision to leave their homes, often with children, for their safety. Very few are accessing long-term affordable housing – one reason why women return to violent and dangerous situations. Women on temporary visas who experience violence and homelessness are ineligible for most forms of assistance and lack avenues to achieve safety and stability.
For older women, problems in accessing affordable housing are often the result of a lifetime of economic disadvantage due to the gender pay and superannuation gaps, women’s greater responsibility for caring for children and other family members and the long-term economic impact of domestic violence.
There is a lack of affordable private rental housing in Australia, together with reduced availability of social housing in recent decades. The proportion of Australian households who live in social housing has fallen from over 7% in 1991 to 4.2% in 2016. There are long waiting lists.
On top of this, COVID-19 has negatively impacted women and their housing security, particularly for women living with violence and women who have lost income.
Women’s homelessness is often hidden and so more likely to be unrecorded. Women generally avoid visibly sleeping rough for safety reasons, so few are assisted by programs for rough sleepers. Instead, they stay temporarily with family or friends, at hostels or house sitting; remain at home in a violent situation; live in a car or sleep outside in hidden locations.
Suitable housing should be available for all women and children in need, and specialised and well resourced services provided if women do experience domestic violence and/or homelessness.
See WEL’s 2022 Federal Election Policy Platform for more details on WEL’s demands for affordable and safe housing for women here.
WEL’s submission to the 2020 NSW Housing Strategy is here. Since 2019 WEL has been working closely with Ageing on the Edge NSW and the Housing for the Aged Action Group at national level to improve housing access for older women. The Ageing on the Edge 2022-23 Pre-Budget Submission, which WEL endorsed is here.
As part of its campaign for affordable and safe housing for women, WEL auspiced an initial grant from the City of Sydney and partnered with award-winning photographer and social documentarian, Belinda Mason of BLUR Projects in a collaborative multi-media arts project UNSEEN.
UNSEEN aims to offer women who have or are experiencing homelessness an opportunity to collaborate with artists and advocates to generate greater public awareness about women’s homelessness and the fact that it is often hidden. Supported by WEL's in depth expertise in this area, UNSEEN connected to a network of women's and other social service and rights organisations to inform a monthly program of artistic work.
During one week each month between March and December 2021 a mobile tiny house was positioned in locations in Sydney’s CBD. The tiny house represents the security, safety and individual freedom women have when they have a place called home. It became the venue for a number of arts projects driven by women with lived experience of homelessness. A chrome coated car was also positioned nearby, representing the only refuge often available for women with nowhere else to go.
Following a pause due to COVID, the UNSEEN Arts Hub was reactivated a number of times in Sydney’s Circular Quay in December 2021. There are plans to hold additional UNSEEN events in both Sydney and regional NSW in 2022.
WEL thanks the City of Sydney for their financial support of UNSEEN and the partner organisations and many volunteers who helped make this project happen.