The government is responsible for influencing many aspects of citizens’ lives. The public policy creates or encourages both material and ideological changes (Anderson, 2014; Gerston, 2010). Thus, the government can use this tool to solve significant problems and provide residents with a safe living environment (Mosley, 2013). One of the issues that currently affect Australian citizens is homelessness. According to 2016 Census data, more than 116,000 people were homeless in Australia (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2020). Notably, the young population – people from 25 to 24 years old – constitute more than 20% of this group (AIHW, 2020). Similarly, almost 20% identified as “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians,” which raises the question about the high rate of homelessness among the Indigenous Australian population (AIHW, 2020, para. 6). These numbers are relatively high, creating a need to support people at risk of homelessness and provide assistance to those who do not have their own homes.
The Australian government has been continuously updating its related policies. In 2018, the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) replaced several other agreements. Compared to its predecessors, its breadth is more extensive and offers some new ideas for improving the current housing situation (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement [NHHA], 2018). However, it still may lack in some areas, especially funding (Milligan, 2018). This policy review considers the updates and benefits of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement and analyzes its shortcomings and potential options for improvement.
Public Policy Description
The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) commenced on 1 July 2018. It was designed to increase the transparency of the government’s funding efforts. The previous programs focused on the same issues were the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) and the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) (NHHA, 2018). In particular, NAHA had several quantitative benchmarks, the three-fourths of which were unlikely to be met (NHHA, 2018). Using this knowledge, the NHHA was created with different aims in mind.
For instance, the NHHA identified multiple priorities for housing policy, including:
- “affordable housing,
- social housing,
- encouraging growth and supporting the viability of the community housing sector,
- tenancy reform,
- homeownership and
- planning and zoning reform initiatives” (NHHA, 2018).
These items cover a large part of all housing environments in which Australians live. Moreover, they address homeownership and tenancy, thus affecting a variety of markets. In particular, the idea of prioritizing zoning reforms can offer a chance to reimagine housing areas and provide the government with more control over such marketing initiatives.
Moreover, a major change in the NHHA is its commitment to transparency and accountability. The Commonwealth introduced an approach to measure data in a standardized way, requiring all participating territories to submit their performance and pledges and display them. Although the measures are not quantitative as they were before, they focus on change (such as increase or decrease). In this way, the government can emphasize that they influence the rate of homelessness and show what each of the states is planning to change in its housing strategy.
The policy offers a new system that asks the states to stay accountable to their citizens. It also replaces several other programs, broadening the scope and uniting the housing-related public policy under one system. Nevertheless, it still has some problems that should be addressed to overcome the issue of homelessness. The primary concern that the Australian federal government encounters is financial. Currently, it maintains the funding from the NPAH; in 2018, it planned to provide about $4.6 billion (NHHA, 2018). It is expected that each state and territory match the funding given to it to participate in this program (NHHA, 2018). Out of this sum, approximately $375 million are reserved for homelessness services (NHHA, 2018). Thus, the Commonwealth expects that the states and territories will increase their spending, asking whether they can do so without sacrificing the programs for other vital issues.
Another problem is that the NHHA does not cover all housing programs, showing its limited reach. For example, the National Rental Affordability Scheme and the National Partnership Agreement of Remote Indigenous Housing are not included in the policy (Milligan, 2018). The later agreement is especially relevant here, as indigenous Australians represent a large portion of homeless people. Many Indigenous people may live far from places where zoning, homeownership, and tenancy reforms are happening.
Impact on Different Groups
As noted above, the NHHA has a significant impact on the homeless people living in Australia. This includes people of all ages, genders, and races. Moreover, it also concerns the people who are at risk of homelessness. For instance, people with low incomes may experience housing insecurity, and be in danger of losing their current homes. Furthermore, unsafe living conditions, mental illness, other health-related problems, domestic abuse, loss of one’s guardian, disability, and other factors increase the risk of becoming homeless (AIHW, 2020). According to the statistics collected by Specialist Homelessness Services, several population groups request government support. These include women, children and teenagers, young adults between the ages of 25 and 34, and women and men over 55 (AIHW, 2020). Indigenous Australians, single-parent households, young people without parents or guardians – many Australians experience homelessness at increased rates. Therefore, the NHHA has the potential of influencing a large, diverse population segment of Australians.
Options for Improvement
As noted above, the NHHA has introduced many beneficial changes to its predecessors’ measuring strategy and accountability policies. Nevertheless, the issue of adequate funding remains to be the most pressing of all. Furthermore, some housing policies still exist separately from this system, affecting their impact on Australians and their access to housing. Thus, there are several steps that the government may take. First, the NHHA should be revised to include the programs of the National Rental Affordability Scheme and the National Partnership Agreement of Remote Indigenous Housing. In this way, this policy can further increase its outreach and cover all rental relationships and housing for Indigenous populations that reside outside of the states’ urban zoning efforts (Moss, 2001; Saunders, 2015). Second, more funding is necessary to reach the goals that the Australian government wants to see. Federal funding for social and affordable housing has to be increased rather than rearranged to provide more people with its services.
Overall, the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) presents an interesting policy development. The NHHA introduces new measurement strategies that move away from concrete numbers toward change-based goals. This step allows the government to show improvement or deterioration in separate states and territories and make the achievements more flexible. At the same time, states and territories are now held accountable for their plans and participation in improving their residents’ housing situations. The NHHA, however, lacks breadth and does not increase funding significantly, which could lead to a lack of positive change in homelessness rates.
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