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Catholic churches confront housing crisis



Around the various corners of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, a quiet, determined effort is being made to house over 400 hundred people. Elderly people, refugees, asylum seekers, people living with mental illness and others on low incomes are living in properties owned by Catholic parishes and religious orders.

Werribee, VictoriaOne in five Catholic parishes in Melbourne are involved in this work and many more are considering how they can address housing needs. These are the findings in a social housing survey conducted by Catholic Social Services Victoria's Social Housing Working Group.

The Catholic Bishops' 2018-2019 Social Justice Statement, A Place to Call Home, will be a response to the growing problem of homelessness in Australia.

To be released in September, and promoted in parishes on 30 September 2018, Social Justice Sunday, the document, according to Archbishop Mark Coleridge, lays down some clear guidance: 'Secure housing is a human right and an incontestable public good, affirmed by both Catholic teaching and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.'

This is yet another recognition of the housing crisis facing Australia. While there has been a significant growth in property investment, promoted in part through negative gearing, affordable housing stock has not kept pace with Australia's population increases.

Slow wage growth has impacted many households competing in the housing market, placing increased pressure on the housing support sector.

The Melbourne survey identified a range of parish responses: some partnered with government to construct low cost housing on church land, while others utilised properties bought when housing was more affordable.


"Governments need to consider housing in the same way as other infrastructure requirements and resource the need accordingly."


Some parishes work with Catholic social service agencies such as Catholic Care and Sacred Heart Mission, who provide tenancy management and support. Many parishes have no additional property, but wish they did, as the indications are clear that additional low cost housing is badly needed.

Some other parishes struggle to meet expenses, and some use or develop any additional property to generate income. The survey identified a further 38 properties that could be redeveloped, but the complexity and expense makes it difficult for many parishes to seriously consider a social housing development project.

Members of the Working Group are advancing a number of these potential social housing development options. Work is also underway across the other Victorian Dioceses, with a view to a more comprehensive report. This will provide a base level of information that can serve as a benchmark for future assessments, and inspire and challenge others to respond.

The housing crisis reflects a failure of systems and a shortage of social and affordable housing options. Governments need to consider housing in the same way as other infrastructure requirements and resource the need accordingly.

Catholic Social Service Victoria and other organisations advocate to governments for an increase in the supply of affordable, low cost public and social housing and further funding for housing support and homelessness services.

The demand for social housing and the substantial Church investment in land means that housing should remain a significant priority of the Catholic Church in Australia. It is an injustice for some to have more than enough while others lack bare necessities. Compassionate and fair leadership needs to drive social change that promotes fair and equitable housing for all.

This requires analysis, discernment and prayer to challenge financial paradigms and societal expectation about the place of housing in our society, and prioritise resources for housing.

There are many ways we can all contribute to this work, and the forthcoming Social Justice Statement should be a useful stimulus for these further steps.

Among other things, we can learn more about the issues, discuss them and pray for guidance; support (financially, and as a volunteer) agencies and services working to end people's experience of homelessness; and explore innovative housing development models and responses to homelessness.

The Australian Catholic Housing Alliance is a valuable source of advice and experience.

The housing crisis requires something from all of us – that we join the persistent and determined effort that is already underway.



Claire-Anne Willis is a Senior Policy Officer and Denis Fitzgerald is Executive Director at Catholic Social Services Victoria.

Topic tags: Claire-Anne Willis



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Existing comments

Yes, it is heartening that our people are pro-active in this area of Social Justice. Recent article (Weekend Australian Mag) about residents of Vic town Nhill is an amazing example.

Patricia Langan | 23 July 2018  

It's great to see our Bishops having a focus on homelessness and to see some Catholic parishes giving needy people 'a place to call home' too. See what more your parish could do in this regard. Church resources being used to give people a home is a practical way of fulfilling Jesus command to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.

Grant Allen | 23 July 2018  

I know of an excellent, cheap mode of housing using portable classrooms, 9.6m x 7.3m. Costs are, portables free from CEO, $10,000 to transport and set on concrete stumps, another $10,000 to make into a 3 bedroom home, including heating kitchen & bathroom. Land is the problem. I know cause I've done it.

Roger Breen | 23 July 2018  

And let's not forget the simple help everybody can give - today. When next you see a homeless person, and they are everywhere around the CBD and elsewhere, have a chat with them instead of fearing them. Be the face of Jesus to them. You may be their only human contact in a very long time, at least the only contact not involving personal threat.

Chris Ryan | 01 August 2018  

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