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Climate justice includes secure public housing

  • 21 February 2020


As homes burned down and memories were reduced to rubble, Australia banded together. But what about those who, in some cases, had already lost everything?

Climate change is here and our homeless population are already feeling the effects. The public housing system is not keeping up. First, there’s the quality on the housing. On the 18th of December last year, Australia experienced its hottest day on record with the national average temperature reaching a high of 40.9 degrees celsius.

As the bushfires raged and air quality worsened, we were constantly told to stay indoors, keep cool and be alert for emergency orders on our phones. But with each public service announcement, we continued to leave some of our most vulnerable behind.

‘It’s a real risk… even death,’ Kate Colvin, Acting CEO of Council to Homeless Persons said, speaking of the dangers climate change pose to people living in low-quality housing. ‘If people have housing that can be cooled with air conditioning then they are better able to close the house up and be better protected. We’re hoping the State Government improves that because this summer has shown how important it is to be living in homes that are well insulated and have cooling.’

There is currently no national policy requiring public housing to provide cooling systems. Rather, it is a state issue but they are only permitted to provide tenants with housing that is 'fit for habitation.'

A report from Mallee Family Care and the University of Sydney studied the Victorian town of Mildura and found rental and public housing ‘is often substandard and unsafe and poorly adapted to high temperatures.’ It also concluded these added stresses increase incidents of family violence, substance abuse and have a deep impact on the mental health of occupants.


'We've seen bushfires, heatwaves, floods and hail in Australia since the new year. Climate action needs to happen. But we also need to ask whether the public housing system is sustainable for the future.'  

Then there is the fact that most of us are already aware of — there is a housing shortage in Australia. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, nationwide there were 140,600 applicants on the waiting list for public housing in June 2018.

And if the uncertainty of waiting for housing isn’t enough, once you are granted housing the only guarantee of having air conditioning is if you have a proven medical condition.