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Reimagining our housing

  • 02 July 2020
Over the course of my life, I have lived in 38 different houses. People often find this fact a little shocking, but it doesn’t reflect a history of hardship or lack of choice. Indeed, it might be best described as the result of an excess of choice. But that’s a story for another day.

I share this odd little fact with you, because I was reflecting the other day that despite the excessive number of houses that I have lived in, they have almost all felt exactly like ‘home’ (we’ll leave aside for now the dodgy share flat in the Canadian ski fields that perhaps lacked this quality, along with a number of other basic features of habitability).

This quality of feeling like ‘home’ had little to do with the familiarity of their physical qualities, their particular location, or even their furnishings. It was far more related to the sense of control that I had over my environment and the feeling of safety — sanctuary even — that I felt within the four walls of each of my homes.

The significance of having a sanctuary has been heightened during the last months of living with the threat of COVID-19, which starkly highlights the experience of those Australians who do not have a sanctuary, who do not have a home to shelter in.

On any given night in Australia, there are at least 116,427 people who are homeless. While around 7 per cent of these people will be sleeping on the streets (the visible side of homelessness), the remainder will be in a shelter, couch surfing, living in insecure boarding houses, or living in severely overcrowded housing.

Severely overcrowded housing is a particularly issue for Aboriginal and Tores Strait Islanders, and while this raises obvious issues right now for health, it can also mean that people do not have adequate access to basic services such as water and sanitation, and even that people have to sleep in shifts.

'If we are going to fix this problem, we need to fundamentally re-imagine our approach to housing by rejecting commodification.'

The upshot of these statistics, which have been getting steadily worse each census, is that Australia is failing to uphold the right to adequate housing. This foundational human right means that everyone has an equal right to an affordable, habitable, accessible and culturally appropriate home. Their home should also have essential amenities such as water, sanitation and energy, be located