It seems that there is much in the media about house prices, interest rates, tax systems, and how these conspire to make housing unaffordable. Perhaps there are other elements that we should be factoring into the equation.

I have always had a bed to go to each night. Mostly, that has been somewhere of my own choosing, and on a very few occasions I have relied on friends or acquaintances to put me up for a few nights. Sometimes, I barely knew the people, but they were kind and accommodating. However, I found it a bit stressful being where I didn’t know my hosts very well, what the routines were, what the expectations were.

If I had to live like that for a long time, possibly years, I think the impact on me would have been significant. And yet this is the reality for many people who live in Australia today.

the indirect costs to the community of leaving people in insecure accommodation are very high

Much homelessness is hidden. It’s easy to see people who are sleeping rough – if you open your eyes in the city. But many homeless people are sleeping in a bed, or on a mattress on the floor. So why do I say they’re homeless? It’s because they have no security – they can be asked to move on with no notice, they have no lease to fall back on. This group of hidden homeless people are easy to ignore, and yet the indirect costs to the community of leaving people in insecure accommodation are very high.

The emotional and psychological costs to individuals having insecure accommodation grow with the amount of time spent in that situation. My own short experience of relying on others to house me was taxing, although some people may be fine with it. But most people who are “couch surfing” find it difficult over the long term. It’s hard to keep a job, relationships, commitments, possessions if you are moving every few weeks or months. The stress of repeatedly starting over can be very high and can start to have major impacts on the physical and mental health of a homeless person.

some children will get such an unsettled start to life that they will struggle to ever recover

The effects of being unable to settle somewhere create a major barrier to getting and keeping an ongoing job. This alone keeps many people in poverty – having a job is the best way to improve the financial position of someone in Australia. So, not helping people to achieve secure housing also has negative impacts on unemployment, social security payments, and levels of poverty.

Perhaps most importantly, this hidden homelessness has huge impacts for the children that experience it. Children, who move around a lot, who experience high levels of stress, and who don’t have predictability in their lives can become traumatised. This can lead to life long effects that can be difficult to counteract. This is serious stuff – we can be creating environments where some children will get such an unsettled start to life that they will struggle to ever recover.

we are willingly not pricing the housing market rationally

As a community we let people slip through the stable accommodation net. We allow a large number of people, families and children suffer the indirect, and sometimes intangible impacts of homelessness, thinking that there is no cost. But the real costs of letting people remain homeless are much higher than is often stated, as we don’t factor in all of the flow-on effects.

I think if all of the intangible impacts of allowing homelessness to grow and fester were factored in then we have to afford an expansion of social and affordable housing. If we don’t then we are willingly not pricing the housing market rationally.

How would you get changes in affordable housing started?