Refugee Council of Australia
Family in front of house

The home stretch: Challenges and alternatives in sustainable housing for refugees and people seeking asylum

The Home Stretch

The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) conducts annual national community consultations on issues associated with Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program, drawing together feedback into a submission to the Australian Government on options to be considered in planning the forthcoming year’s program. Each year, finding affordable and adequate housing is nominated as one of the three key concerns of refugee communities in Australia. Among the housing-related concerns raised by community members and settlement service providers are:

  • The challenges newly arrived refugees have in finding housing, with a lack of rental history in Australia and language barriers being significant obstacles when competing for a limited number of affordable rental properties.
  • The financial burden of the high cost of housing on people on low incomes.
  • The importance of support and advice to newly-arrived refugees who have a limited understanding of rental processes, their rights as tenants or the expectations of landlords.
  • The additional challenges faced by larger families.

With the significant expansion since late 2011 of the numbers of people seeking asylum living in the community on bridging visas, housing needs are more critical than ever. More than 24,000 people seeking asylum are living in the Australian community with very limited access to support services, many subsisting on minimal income support paid at 89% of the Centrelink Special Benefit. Those who reached Australia by boat on or after 13 August 2012 are currently precluded from working to support themselves and are thus completely dependent on income support. In addition to the barriers faced by other humanitarian entrants (such as lack of English language skills, lack of Australian rental history and little or no knowledge of the Australian housing market), people seeking asylum face additional barriers due to their temporary status, exceptionally low incomes and ineligibility for settlement services.

The release of large numbers of people seeking asylum on to bridging visas without work rights coincided with the expansion of Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program during the 2012-13 financial year from 13,750 to 20,000 places. This was the largest increase in the program in 30 years and, while the program has now returned to its former level, those who arrived during 2012-13 will continue to be eligible for settlement services for years to come. While both the increased use of community alternatives to detention and the expansion of the Refugee and Humanitarian Program were welcomed by RCOA’s members, consultation participants noted that these policies – along with the much larger impacts of Australia’s annual migration intake – increase the competition for affordable housing and highlight the need for critical housing needs to be better addressed. At the same time, RCOA hears of creative and effective local approaches to addressing refugee housing insecurity that could be replicated or developed further in government policy.

While there is a growing body of research focused on the challenges faced by refugees with permanent residency in finding sustainable housing in Australia, there is little information about the particular issues faced by people seeking asylum on short-term bridging visas. There is also a dearth of evidence about what strategies, policies and projects are effective in assisting refugees and people seeking asylum to overcome these challenges and to find secure and affordable homes in Australia.

In July 2013, RCOA received funding from the Geddes Nairn Development Fund, through the Australian Communities Foundation, to conduct research into current housing issues for refugees and people seeking asylum. The research aimed to identify the challenges faced by people seeking asylum and people from refugee backgrounds in securing affordable, appropriate and sustainable housing and the strategies which are most effective in assisting them to do so. This report presents the findings from this research project.

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