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SYC calls for innovative solutions to address youth homelessness in South Australia

  • Aug 12, 2016
Following the State Government’s announcement that it will fund a new youth homelessness early intervention pilot project in regional South Australia, based on the Geelong Project, leading Adelaide-based not-for-profit SYC Limited (SYC) calls for more recommendations from the SA Youth Homelessness White Paper to be implemented to help tackle youth homelessness.

The white paper was produced with input from the South Australian Youth Homelessness Working Group, which was formed by SYC after being approached by the South Australian Government. The diverse group of members, including the Youth Affairs Council of South Australia, BankSA, DW Fox Tucker Lawyers, Victor Smorgon Group and SYC, were tasked with finding alternative approaches to reducing youth homelessness in South Australia, where on any given night an estimated 1,450 young people are experiencing homelessness.

Piloting a version of the Geelong Project was just one recommendation from the white paper along with introducing ‘buy-down’ rents and guarantor models for young people under 18 years of age. A multitude of approaches are necessary to help tackle youth homelessness. In a climate of high youth unemployment, even when a young person is able to secure work the transition from homelessness to independence and prosperity remains challenging because the job may not necessarily cover the full cost of living.

The current cost of housing is prohibitive for many young people when comparing youth wage levels and Centrelink payments (most usually Youth Allowance) with the cost of rent in major cities and towns across South Australia. The average (mean) Centrelink income is $525 per fortnight and ranges from $465 to $720 per fortnight. Compared with the median fortnightly rent in South Australia of $690 for a house or $570 for a unit (Australian Property Monitors, Rental Report, June Quarter 2014), the issue of housing stress and affordability is perhaps best evidenced by these disparities.

YH-Info

Figures from various sources identified in SA Youth Homelessness White Paper

“If securing and affording private rental is difficult for a large section of our mature population, consider for a moment how much more difficult and how much less affordable it is for a young person who for whatever reason is no longer able to live at home with parents or caregivers,” said HYPA General Manager and Working Group member Liz O’Connell. HYPA is the youth services division of SYC and focuses on helping young people to access and maintain safe and appropriate accommodation as well as reconnect with family, school, employment and the community.

The white paper has identified several potential solutions to the housing unaffordability issue for young people at a time when ‘not enough income’ is cited by as much as 60 percent of young people as their primary barrier to getting permanent housing (Supply shortages and affordability outcomes in the private rental sector: short and longer term trends, Swinburne University of Technology, June 2015).

‘Buy-down’ rents, similar to the buy-down mortgage financing method, could see the Government, as the landlord of a property, lower the rent for a period of up to two years. In effect this provides a rent subsidy for an agreed term, which affords the young person the stability and security needed to effectively reach independence and self sufficiency.

“Without this kind of assistance, young people are faced with significant affordability barriers which directly inhibit their ability to work their way out of the poverty trap,” noted Ms O’Connell.

Without a fixed address a young person’s ability to find employment is impeded. Addressing this barrier becomes difficult when a young person may not have access to familial support to act as a guarantor, so being accepted as a lessee with no rental record can be challenging. Creating a system within government that provides young people with a guarantor service could prove invaluable for creating a pathway for young people into the private rental market.

Another opportunity, identified in the white paper, exemplifies the new thinking proposed by the stakeholders. Public housing plays an important role in providing affordable housing, but research from 2015 by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Unit (AHURI) found that most participants in public housing have no plans to exit public housing in the foreseeable future. Tenants in secure employment and paying close to market rents indicated they would leave public housing only to transition into home ownership and not private rental. A new model could involve partnering with HomeStart Finance (or other home lenders) to create a scenario where tenants enter into an agreement with the Government and HomeStart to deposit a proportion of earnings into a dedicated HomeStart account, and the Government matching their deposits dollar for dollar.

The approach would assist public housing residents to transition to private home ownership with a proven savings history, freeing up existing housing stock for young people to assist them on their journey to independence and prosperity.

Either way, young people require special consideration when it comes to the provision of affordable housing and access to the private rental market.

“There is no one size fits all solution to youth homelessness. It is a complex, multifaceted issue. A young person who has choices, whether or not they are at risk or experiencing homelessness, will be in good standing to develop independence and interdependence with their community,” Ms O’Connell concluded.

“It is essential that we take the necessary steps to ensure young people have access to these choices and these recommendations are a good starting point.”

You can read the full SA Youth Homelessness White Paper here.

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