Virus to dominate new homelessness inquiry

Housing advocates want tens of billions of dollars pumped into public housing in Australia to address homelessness and help revive the economy.

The coronavirus pandemic and the recession will be the dominating themes of a federal parliamentary inquiry into homelessness on Tuesday.

Advocates will tell politicians to use the construction of tens of thousands of public houses and units as a way to pull Australia out of the economic doldrums.

Per Capita executive director Emma Dawson says the money needs to come from the federal government.

She also wants a ban on evicting people from public housing.

Ms Dawson pointed to how quickly governments were able to move rough sleepers into hotels and get them access to crucial health services.

“We have the capacity to deal with this if we want to,” she told.

Issues like low wages, a lack of secure work and sick days for some workers also needed to be addressed.

“These are social issues that have left us more exposed to the crisis than we should have been had we had adequate housing and other policies,” she said.

Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute also wants a federal response.

Chief executive Michael Fotheringham said COVID-19 showed how important it was for people to have a roof over their heads to stay safe.

“It’s shone a light on the dramatic health consequences and inequalities for people experiencing homelessness,” Dr Fotheringham said.

“As a society we have to ask whether it’s okay to go back to that.”

Grattan Institute program director Brendan Coates said the construction of at least 30,000 public housing units would help in the short term.

But more than 100,000 units needed to be built to address national shortages.

He warned the government not to repeat the mistakes of the national rental affordability scheme during the last financial crisis.

Landlords were given cash incentives to cut rents by at least 20 per cent.

But Mr Coates told AAP this just led to landlords pocketing thousands while passing on little of the savings to renters, with a lack of means testing among renters seeing some of the poorest miss out.

“The priority is going to be giving the housing to those that are at severe risk of homelessness,” he said.

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