'Time for a re-think' on housing solutions

Quindalup resident Erl Happ has an innovative solution to help ease the housing crisis.
Quindalup resident Erl Happ has an innovative solution to help ease the housing crisis.

South West Western Australian landowner Erl Happ has an innovative solution to convert shipping containers into small homes as affordable housing pressure mounts across the country.

The homes are light and airy, easily transportable and could provide an alternative affordable housing option on rural properties.

However, getting planning approvals is another hurdle.

Mr Happ, of Quindalup, said having access to affordable housing was liberating, and that a transportable home could provide people with a low cost option and a short duration of debt.

The homes can be transported by truck and located in nature with little environmental impact, which Mr Happ said was psychologically beneficial to people's wellbeing, especially children.

"What's not to like about adding a new enterprise to what is already possible on rural land? We can live in a native bush garden among local species," he said.

"A tiny or transportable home that is rented rather than provided with a freehold title."

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Mr Happ said the current economic situation had reduced labour mobility, productivity and the potential to improve the sum of human happiness.

"It becomes considerably more difficult for people to realise their potential," he said.

"For singles and the sole parent, a small home like this would relieve the necessity of sharing a house with people who may be incompatible.

"It would also reduce the portion of income that must be devoted to accommodation, which might make it possible for a family to survive on the income of a single breadwinner.

"This has massive implications for the health and welfare of children impacting performance at school and in later life."

Housing a fundamental human right

UWA School of Population and Global Health associate professor Lisa Wood said there was a growing appetite in the homelessness sector to see innovation coming from community members, architects, developers and private sector.

She said there was frustration that things were too little-too slow in terms of community housing.

"All credit to anyone who is trying to come up with some innovations and solutions because the alternative is people are literally sleeping on the street," she said.

"Housing is internationally recognised as a fundamental human right.

"A lot of our research and evidence shows that housing is central to our physical and mental health, and a basic standard of living.

"That ranges from being able to get a good night's sleep, being able to store medications, being able to prepare a meal through to safety which is a huge issue.

"In the current crisis, government is not able to make any inroads into reducing the public housing waiting list unfortunately, and I think that will worsen with the moratorium that was just lifted."

Ms Wood said the government's policy for housing first was a really important principal - that people were housed rapidly as soon as they were homeless - then put in place background support.

"That is the official policy but we are just not able to do that anywhere in WA at the moment because there isn't accommodation available," she said.

Homelessness and impact on wellbeing

Ms Wood said the evidence they had looked at in Western Australia last year, showed that people who were homeless died at the average age of 47 years and had chronic health conditions much more advanced than other people of their chronological age.

"The international evidence shows that people age 20 to 30 years ahead of other people their age who are housed," she said.

"Mental health is also a huge factor, listening to the radio this morning people were fearful about losing their rental property or struggling to find one.

"You could just hear it in the voices of people across WA, the stress of people worrying about continuing to afford a rental."

Social housing wait list too long to address current housing needs

Ms Wood said there were 15,000 Western Australians on the public housing wait list, which had a priority wait list for people who were homeless, fleeing domestic and family violence or had a medical condition.

"There is literally people in Perth, and we know there are people rough sleeping in Bunbury, Busselton and throughout the South West, whose mental health is deteriorating every week they are on the streets," she said.

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Ms Wood said there was a lot of concern about another wave of homelessness coming because of the pressures in the rental market, cost of purchasing a home and lengthy wait for social housing.

"There is a lot of disappointment in the homelessness sector that there has not been a bigger investment in social housing and a more rapid commitment to expanding the number.

"Canada has been really innovative in the downturn in business due to COVID-19, so they have taken empty office blocks and apartments, and converting them rapidly into housing for people who are on a low income or are homeless.

"We haven't got that traction here unfortunately."

Greater housing diversity could provide more opportunities

A Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage spokesperson said a greater diversity of housing types could provide opportunities for residents to remain in the communities they love later in life, make it easier for younger Australians to enter the housing market and provide long-term environmental and social benefits.

"In relation to innovative housing concepts, such as the use of sea containers and transportable buildings, landowners are encouraged to initiate discussions with their local government to understand local planning, land use and building requirements," the spokesperson said.

"DPLH is working with all state government agencies to support the supply of affordable land and housing across WA.

"We also work with local governments to ensure their planning frameworks adequately accommodate for the future housing needs of all Western Australians."

This story 'It's time for a re-think' on housing solutions first appeared on Busselton-Dunsborough Mail.