The challenges faced by people seeking asylum and people from refugee backgrounds in finding affordable, appropriate and sustainable housing is consistently raised as one of the primary issues affecting humanitarian entrants in Australia. Communities and service providers across Australia have adopted various strategies to assist humanitarian entrants to overcome barriers, including practical support, acting as an intermediary, drawing on community connections and exploring non-traditional settlement options.
This report includes profiles of local projects, as well as a call for government action to address structural and systemic issues regarding housing availability and affordability.
The challenges faced by people seeking asylum and people from refugee backgrounds in finding affordable, appropriate and sustainable housing is consistently raised as one of the primary issues affecting humanitarian entrants in Australia. In recent years, these challenges have become even more acute due to the increasing competitiveness of the housing market in many metropolitan and regional areas across Australia; and changes to Australian Government policy which have resulted in larger numbers of humanitarian entrants being resettled in Australia and larger numbers of people seeking asylum living in the community, both seeking affordable housing.
While accessing affordable and suitable housing is a challenge for all low income earners in the current market, humanitarian entrants also face a range of additional barriers which hamper their capacity to find and maintain sustainable housing. These include: reliance of income support during the early stages of settlement or due to difficulties in finding employment; lack of understanding of Australian rental processes; language barriers; lack of rental history and documentation; lack of understanding of tenancy rights and responsibilities; negative attitudes among real estate agents, landlords and other housing providers; and the risks associated with shared accommodation arrangements.
While there are many common challenges for people seeking asylum, refugees and other humanitarian entrants in finding accommodation, experiences in the Australian housing market also differ for different groups depending on factors such as family composition, gender, cultural background, age and length of time in Australia. Similarly, while people seeking asylum face many of the same barriers and challenges as humanitarian entrants on permanent visas, consultation participants also identified a range of specific issues affecting this group, including their temporary visa status, exceptionally low incomes, the limitations of service provision models for people seeking asylum and inadequate transition support.
Communities and service providers across Australia have adopted a range of strategies to assist humanitarian entrants to overcome the significant challenges they face in securing housing. These strategies have included:
- Providing practical support for new arrivals to navigate and access the housing market including orientation, intensive one-on-one support, education about tenancy rights and responsibilities, financial assistance, transitional and supported housing options and targeted homelessness services.
- Acting as an intermediary between housing providers and those seeking accommodation through building relationships with real estate agents and other housing providers, providing brokerage and advocacy support, head leasing, developing partnerships with housing providers, offering language support and addressing community attitudes which impact upon housing accessibility.
- Drawing on community connections through tapping into links within refugee communities and broader community connections, developing housing cooperatives and exploring shared accommodation options.
- Exploring options for settlement in non-traditional areas where housing is more affordable, although this effectiveness of this strategy depends on the ‘fit’ of the refugee community and the local community and ensuring there is support on both sides.
This report includes profiles of local projects and feedback from settlement service staff about how these and other positive strategies are being implemented around Australia.
While these strategies can be successful in assisting humanitarian entrants to access the housing market, there is also a need for government action to further enhance access to housing and address wider structural and systemic issues. This includes: developing the housing sector to expand available housing stock; addressing affordability through providing financial assistance and reviewing relevant income support programs; building the capacity of housing providers to respond to the needs of humanitarian entrants; and supporting the involvement of refugee communities in efforts to address housing challenges.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government work with state, territory and local governments explore strategies to increase the availability of affordable housing stock, such as direct housing development, financial incentives, community and private sector partnerships and alternative social housing models.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government and state/territory governments establish additional financial support programs (such as rental subsidies and bond loans) for people on low incomes.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government revise the payment rates under relevant government income support programs, in particular the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, to a level which more accurately reflects the cost of living.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government restore work rights to people seeking asylum living in the community on bridging visas.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, through the Department of Social Services, provide funding to support the delivery of professional development and training opportunities for real estate agents, specialist housing and homelessness services and other housing providers, to ensure that they are able to meet the needs of people seeking asylum and people from refugee backgrounds.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government provide additional funding under the SGP and ASAS/CAS programs for specialist housing workers to provide more intensive support with housing issues.
RCOA recommends that the eligibility period for the CAS Transitional program be extended to at least eight weeks.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government provide funding under the CAS Transitional and ASAS programs for additional caseworkers to alleviate high client-to-worker caseloads.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review the service delivery framework for asylum seeker support programs, in line with the recommendations made in RCOA’s submission on the 2014-15 Refugee and Humanitarian Program.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government and state/territory governments develop partnerships with refugee communities to support their role in addressing settlement issues and challenges, including those related to housing.
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