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Forget Millennials, This Group Has The Hardest Time Getting A Roof Over Their Heads

Australian women -- particularly older women -- are suffering under the weight of a "broken" housing system, prompting calls for a national strategy that prioritises their needs.

A single mother arrives at an emergency shelter with her young daughter, who isn't at school yet. She has escaped a violent household and needs a place to stay for the night.

She is on a low income, and needs help to start receiving Centrelink payments. Finding --or being able to afford -- childcare is difficult, let alone competing in the private rental market to secure a home.

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It's a common story for Helen Silvia. She runs the Women's and Girls' Emergency Centre in Sydney, housing approximately 200 women and children every night.

"Already, there is in-built discrimination stacked against this single mother," she told 10 daily.

"There isn't enough affordable housing that is suitable for her, and she won't qualify for social housing. If she does, she could be on the housing list for years."

Affordable housing is an issue for all Australians, but one that disproportionately affects women -- many whom are fleeing family violence or who are paying higher rents to accommodate their children near schools or childcare.

A coalition of homelessness and women's groups is calling on the major political parties to develop a national housing strategy for women in the lead up to the federal election.

READ MORE: Plea For More Affordable Housing To Be Part Of Next Election Campaign

While housing has been flagged as a key budget and election issue, Everybody's Home campaign spokeswoman Kate Colvin told 10 daily it urgently needs a gendered lens.

"Women are getting squeezed at both ends in the sense they're, on average, earning less and then also often require larger homes to cater for their children," she told 10 daily.

"That's where the pressure in the housing market comes from."

As a starting point, Australian women earn approximately 67 percent of male incomes, in both full-time and part-time jobs, according to recent ABS statistics. They're also more likely to take leave from work and return on a part-time or casual basis.

Those who rely on part-time wages or single parenting payments are particularly vulnerable to rental stress.

New data from the ABS Survey of Income and Housing shows 462,436 women in Australia are both on a low income and pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent. This compares to 423, 764 men.

Colvin said single mothers who prioritise location to accommodate their children often end up paying more rent than they can afford. 

"If you're looking after children, being close to schools, childcare and shops is vital in terms of making everyday life work," she said. 

"It means women often don't have the money for other essential needs and are in a constant state of having to make choices between paying medical bills, buying their children’s school books or repairing the car.”

Women are also at an increased risk of losing their homes as a result of domestic or family violence, being three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner.

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This, in turn, is the biggest driver of homelessness. Women over 55 years are the fastest growing homeless cohort in Australia.

According to 2018 data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 94 percent of those experiencing violence and being assisted by homelessness services were women and children.

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Services such as WAGEC,  which cater specifically to women, are struggling to find adequate emergency and long-term housing to meet the volume of need. 

"There just isn't enough affordable housing and the low-cost housing that single people often go into is just not safe for women," Silvia said.

"Women tell us they don't feel safe in these kinds of environments."

Calls To ‘Re-Balance The Scales’

On International Women’s Day, Everybody’s Home and the National Federation for Australian Women (NFAW) called on the government to make women's issues central to housing policy.

"If politicians want to be seen to care about gender equality, they will have to take broad action on housing affordability," NFAW spokeswoman Marie Coleman said.

Some initiatives have been promised, with both of the major parties announcing additional funding to house domestic violence victims.

This week, the government unveiled a $328 million package over three years to combat domestic violence, which included the $78 million for emergency accommodation announced last month.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has also proposed $60 million to assist women and children fleeing violence, along with a new affordable housing scheme.

But Coleman said there is no overarching gender-responsive housing strategy to "connect the dots".

The NFAW, along with Everybody's Home, is calling on a national strategy to deliver 500,000 social and affordable homes -- a proportion of which are affordable to women and girls, and meet their specific needs.

Colvin said women’s housing should be large enough for their children and close to childcare, transport and schools, including in remote Indigenous communities.

The groups are also calling on tenancy reforms to include protections for women experiencing domestic and family violence, and reforms to Commonwealth Rent Assistance to improve affordability for women across their life.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, dial 000. If you need help and advice, call 1800Respect on 1800 737 732, or Lifeline on 13 11 14. A range of domestic and family violence resources based around the country can be found here.

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au

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