When people who need protection come to Australia, they need stable housing so they can start to build a future in Australia. People coming to Australia for the first time often find it very difficult to find appropriate housing. Affordable and adequate housing is always one of the top concerns of refugee communities in Australia.
There are many reasons why people who need protection find it difficult to get appropriate housing.
There isn’t much affordable housing
Everyone in Australia finds it difficult to find low-cost housing. Waiting lists for social housing are very long, because there has not been much investment in social housing. Rents, especially in the major cities, are very high.
Competing in the private market
People who need protection often find it hard to compete with other people for the few houses they can afford. They have to learn how the rental market works, and must compete with Australians finding, inspecting and applying for properties. When they apply to rent a house, they often find they are not accepted because they do not have a rental history, are not working and because of discrimination.
Not having enough money
People who need protection often need to rely on Centrelink benefits when they first come to Australia. They are busy learning English, studying and looking for work.
Many people who need protection do not have much money when they come, and often send as much as they can back to their family and friends overseas. Centrelink benefits are not very generous, and rent assistance has not kept up with rents. They may be repaying debts from their migration here. They are generally unfamiliar with rental arrangements and may not be used to budgeting. For these reasons, many people in need of protection find the cost of housing puts them under a lot of stress. This is especially true for single people, because the cost of rent tends to be much higher as a proportion of income.
Knowing their rights and responsibilities
Most refugees have to learn the rights and responsibilities they have when renting in Australia. For many of them, this is a new experience, especially if they have spent a long time in refugee camps. This is made harder because many of them do not yet know enough English to understand their rights and responsibilities. Many therefore find it difficult to argue for themselves if things go wrong. They are vulnerable to exploitation because they do not understand their rights or how to enforce them.
People who need protection are likely to face discrimination. They may be discriminated against because of their incomes, or because of prejudice against refugees and people seeking asylum or concerns that they will be too difficult as tenants. As the Refugee Council of Australia found in its report, the Home Stretch, this discrimination makes it more likely that people in need of protection will agree to unfair or illegal leases.
Many people in need of protection have large families. In most capital cities, four bedroom or larger houses either don’t exist or are too expensive for families from a refugee background or are simply unavailable. This can lead to overcrowding.
Risks of homelessness
These challenges mean people are at risk of homelessness. While it is not common to hear of people in need of protection living on the streets (‘primary homelessness’), it is more common to hear of people moving between the homes of friends and relatives, and between refuges, boarding houses and other emergency housing. For those who do become homeless, there are not enough appropriate and culturally sensitive supports and services.