National Housing Conference 2017: Building for better lives


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Content type
Short article

February 2018


Will Douglas

Creating a better housing system for all Australians was the focus of the recent National Housing Conference held in Sydney, 29 November to 1 December 2017. 

The National Housing Conference explored a range of topics including early intervention and prevention of homelessness, and the relationship between domestic and family violence and homelessness in Australia.

The conference coincided with the announcement of Canada’s $40 billion National Housing Strategy, which aims to address housing affordability issues and rates of homelessness similar to those experienced in Australia. Evan Siddall1 outlined the strategy’s key features in an opening address, which include targets to:

  • reduce chronic homelessness by 50%;
  • lift 530,000 households out of housing need;
  • add 100,000 new housing units; and
  • repair or renew 300,000 housing units.

Canada’s national approach to addressing housing affordability raised the question: what can Australia learn from Canada, a country operating under the same federated system of government?

Early intervention and prevention

Early intervention and prevention of homelessness was a major theme of the conference. Gail Gilman2 presented on the work of Community Housing Partnership in California, a non-profit organisation that assists homeless people to secure housing and become self-sufficient. Community Housing Partnership develops and manages supportive housing, and provides a range of services to help homeless people break the cycle of homelessness and rebuild their lives.

Panellists discussed a range of potential benefits in implementing a national plan to promote early intervention and prevention of homelessness in Australia. A key issue that arose in this discussion was that Australian human services and health systems have typically served as a crisis response to homelessness, which has inhibited the development of early intervention and prevention strategies. The panellists agreed that several steps would need to be taken before such a national strategy could be implemented, including better data linkages and transparency between organisations to inform a national plan. 

Domestic and family violence

The link between domestic and family violence (DFV) and homelessness was another key focus area of the conference. Debbie Georgopoulos3 provided the impetus for this discussion with reference to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Specialist homelessness services 2015–16 report, which found that 38% of people seeking assistance from specialist homelessness services were doing so because they had experienced DFV. Conference delegates heard about several recent initiatives that aim to improve outcomes for those experiencing, or at risk of, DFV and homelessness.

Sue Cripps4 presented on the Strengthening Practice in Responding to Domestic and Family Violence toolkit developed for the NSW Federation of Housing Associations. This toolkit aims to improve responses to victims of DFV by increasing community housing providers’ understanding and capacity to respond effectively to applicants, tenants and household members who experience DFV. 

Dr Heather Nancarrow5 looked at initiatives evolving from the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022. This included Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), which was established to help build and translate evidence on DFV to inform policy and practice. Dr Nancarrow also outlined the Pathways Home Transitional Housing Project that was launched in New South Wales in November 2017, which utilises properties that developers have land banked for future developments to provide homes for women and children leaving emergency accommodation. The initiative provides women and children with stable housing for up to 18 months, as well as access to support services to help them to re-establish safety and stability in their lives, develop financial management skills and access other support they may need.

The tenth National Housing Conference examined a broad range of factors contributing to housing stress and homelessness in Australia. International and local initiatives were discussed, with a focus on vulnerable groups at risk of homelessness and ways to enhance early intervention and prevention strategies. For further information about the conference or to view a conference highlights video or slides, video and audio of the presentations, visit the National Housing Conference website

Further reading and resources