I love our home at this time of year, with our Christmas tree up, fridge stocked with beer and cake, and lights strung out in the bottle brush hedge to welcome visitors. We gave the kids a trampoline this year. They would love a dog but apart from the fact their parents aren’t interested in increasing the housework load, our rental agreement doesn’t allow for pets.
According to recent data, average Sydney house prices have risen 67 per cent in the last five years, to a median price of $845,000 in 2016. Average incomes haven’t kept up with this pace, as we know. This is good news for people who have invested in residential real estate, but for those whose home is their primary or only asset the ever-rising cost of living reduces its real value somewhat.
It’s somewhat depressing news for people like me and my husband who would have liked to raise a family in a home we own but have given up on being able to afford one within reasonable striking distance of the Sydney job market and schools we love.
Some of this is our own choosing, of course. Opting to being open to and then being swiftly blessed with a larger-than-average family has ruled out a bunch of more affordable housing options. Our expenses, including rent, are higher as a family of seven than if there were just two or three of us, putting well out of reach the hurdle of saving for the large deposit we would need to live anywhere in greater Sydney.
We’re grateful for this roof over our heads and are blessed with decent landlords but preparing for regular inspections is annoying, and can feel humiliating. Each year there’s a possibility we’ll be required to move house or pay more to stay in this one. There’s always a little sting along with our excitement when we hear of a friend or sibling purchasing or renovating or selling their family home.
It sucks, this ever-present little ache for a home of our own, but, paradoxically I am grateful for it. It helps me to appreciate more deeply three more important realities than Australia’s current housing bubble. They are 1: the poverty of Jesus on earth; 2: the truth about our eternal home, and 3: the fact that God is on the side of the poor and poor in spirit.
For Christians, Christmas is a good time to reflect on the fact that our God, in becoming human, lived a span of life on earth with, in his own words, “no place to lay his head”. If Jesus has given me even a small taste of his own ‘rest-lessness’ among friends on earth, then this is quite a gift.
We remember that everyone’s brick-and-mortar home, rented or owned, is a temporary deal anyway. This whole earth is as Pope Francis has reminded us in his environmental encyclical, our ‘common home’. But it’s not our only, and not our final home. Here we find a preview of heaven, not the place where we feel most ‘at home’. While we work (and must work) to make this temporal home as hospitable as possible, out of respect and charity for what and who God has made, we ultimately look forward to being most perfectly at home in heaven.
We also know that God is unequivocally on the side of the poor and the materially well-off who align themselves with the poor. Jesus said: “Give and it will be given to you….For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” This is true both of the generous, and of the ungenerous.
Someone materially blessed who is given a choice and freely chooses to withhold a generous spirit towards the poor, the young married couple, the elderly pensioner, the single mother, the full-time carer, the temporary visa holder, or the struggling family will ultimately receive in kind. Yes God is love, and makes the sun shine on the good and bad alike. But God is also just, and unscrupulous usurers will not ultimately elude his justice.
Through its The Right to Home petition the St Vincent de Paul Society is seeking support to have chronic homelessness and housing unaffordability debated in the NSW parliament. In its The Ache for Home report released this year the Society points out that current state and territory government programs addressing the housing shortfall, housing stress, and chronic homelessness are proving to be inadequate and makes recommendations for easing these.
The Society links overpriced, unsafe, and/or severely overcrowded housing to entrenched poverty, lack of community engagement, domestic violence, and mental and physical illness. According to the report, despite stable housing being a core human right and basic need, more than 105,000 people are homeless in Australia, with single women over 55 the fastest growing group. Also, up to 875,000 people are in some form of housing stress, paying far too much for housing relative to their income.
For many, like the gentleman Gavin in one case study provided, it’s not a case of financial mismanagement but insufficient income to meet the need for proper housing along with the other, increasingly expensive, necessities of life.
My husband and I can still make some choices to relieve any housing stress as our family grows. Many people don’t have our options, our back-up support networks, and/or our Christian hope. Australia is still a Christian country, known for its innovation and ingenuity. Of course there are no easy answers, but let’s lead the way in trying to ensure that each citizen at least has a stable, safe, and affordable home.