Housing and home-making, place, nesting and resting seem to be in the discourse with women and young couples who are swirling around me. The litany includes: lack of affordable housing, the price of houses for sale, the limited options in the rental market, how airBnB is being used to supplement incomes and reduce stock for rental, banks and interest rates, auctions, innovations in financial models and legal arrangements, selling a home to downsize, materials to use for building, sustainable energy options. I have long had an interest in the centrality of housing for health, prosperity and happiness and invoking the Year of the Ox characteristics of hardworking, reliable, honest, it seems that these qualities are not enough to bring housing justice to all. Women over 45 are the fastest growing cohort of homeless people in Australia, 400,000 at risk is a number, and behind each of one of these is a story with its roots in a combination of factors – insecure employment, migration, refugee status, domestic violence, private rental, indigenous, ill health, single parent, fractured network of support from family and/or friends. And a house is more than a roof over your head, nesting is real, putting down roots suits most people, being a troubadour or pilgrim is not for everyone.
Not everyone who is at risk of homelessness even realises this or names themselves in this way. For example I had a friend who moved between her daughters for a few years, supporting their fledgling families establish themselves but had no home of her own eventually finding social housing to settle. When she divorced she got her share of the estate which was modest and inexperienced in money management, with no secure employment and being an age unable to get a bank loan to meet the difference she found herself in this insecure housing situation. Another friend sold her home, paid off the mortgage and moved to her family holiday home while she decided where to go next in part to take steps to a more sustainable and aligned with her values, lifestyle. She is still looking for the right site to make a long term home, and in the meantime she is getting older and further away from a bank’s desire to lend to her. She is a casual worker and can snap up opportunities when they present themselves effectively, has health issues that this kind of employment can be supported by taking breaks as necessary, but the illusive permanent roof over her head is not yet realised. A third woman I know has been in Australia less than a year. She has had a distinguished career and is looking to land here. Finding short-term accomodation as she organises legal and financial threads has been proving hard in a rental housing market that is skewed to long-term or AirbnB type arrangements. She falls in the middle. She is a very capable person and it has been more than a culture shock not to have the ease of making a decision and being able to realise it happen in close succession. A fourth woman I know has considerable support from a women’s housing service and as a consquence of her rental property being no longer available, she and her children, two out of three with significant disabilities, living with a friendly neighbour. She has been unable to find accomodation and the support service have literally been turing up every possiblity even to knocking on doors of empty houses. She wants to keep her children in the schools and neighbourhood to minimise disruption and hang onto the community she has near by. Then there is a young couple who are searching to buy a home. They have professional backgrounds and are competent and capable. They have permanent employment, support of family and a strong network of friends. The prices are rising each day as houses get bought up in auctions by more experienced and wealthier couples or family groups. I am sure we all know people who can fit into these stories. What surprises me is that I am hearing all these conversations at the moment and the prevelance of language about home and hearth. A house is so much more than a piece of real estate, its role in creating a nest where you can nurture yourself, host others, find space for privacy, fashion intimacy with self and invite community. It is a place where the economy, social, political and environmental values can be broadcast, learnt, enabled. It is where doors open to bring rest, nourishment, healing waters. I always think having a shower (or a bath) in your own home is one of the great luxuries of the rich and I try not to take it for granted. The running water, choices of hot and cold and the blend that comes at my fingertips to be like Goldilocks and get it just right, the cascade of warmth relieving tension and bringing relaxation to muscles.
I have a house blessing that was gifted I think from my paternal grandmother, it has travelled with me to all the homes I have lived in. It speaks of qualities in a house that are hospitable, well lit, is strong and sturdy, and of a place that is a blessing and blessed. These seem to be all reasonable prayerful requests. As I am lucky enough to have more than I need in terms of housing and land, I am challenged by how to share that and also keep the quiet I need for my own sanity in this season of my life. There are more configurations emerging in my mind and as more and more conversations explore what is needed to meet the moment of this housing shortage, affordable options and new ways of living together and in the eavesdropping into emergent housing solutions.