Photo: Through an affordable housing unit, Ms Raumati-Damon is able to live on her own. (ABC News: Norman Hermant)
You don't have to tell Jan Raumati-Damon she beat the odds. This week, she realised a dream she thought might never happen — she was handed the keys to her own Sydney apartment."It's great. I'm very excited," Ms Raumati-Damon said, her eyes tearing up just after signing her lease.
The 65-year-old works part-time as a cook, and receives the age pension. But that hasn't been enough to secure her own apartment.
In the last four years, she's moved five times.
"It has been a long time," she said. "From living with 10 people, down to now. Finally living just by myself again."
Ms Raumati-Damon had been stuck in Australia's private-rental trap. She escaped with the help of St George Community Housing (SGCH).
Because she earns less than $48,500 a year, she's eligible for an SGCH affordable housing unit.
Her rent is fixed at $286 per week — 65 per cent of the market rent in Peakhurst in southern Sydney. Without that subsidy, her new one-bedroom apartment would rent for $440 per week.
"It is overwhelming, because it's taken me four years to find something," she said.
Photo: Ms Raumati-Damon was "overwhelmed" to have found a place of her own. (ABC News: Norman Hermant)
It's estimated there's a shortage of at least 120,000 dwellings in Australia of affordable housing — where rent is tied to a percentage of the market rent to assist those with low wage work.
For those living on the poverty line or receiving some form of social benefits, the situation is even more bleak.
By one estimate there's a need for at least 270,00 more dwellings for those on the lowest 20 per cent of income.
"You simply despair," said Treasurer Scott Morrison in a speech that addressed the current situation earlier this month.
A bid to attract major investment in social housingMr Morrison has announced a taskforce to examine something called a "bond aggregator" — essentially government-backed loans aimed at attracting large-scale private investment in social housing.
"This brings two things: cheaper money and better terms," said Michael Lennon, chairperson of the Community Housing Industry Association.
Photo: Michael Lennon believes large-scale private investment in social housing could happen in Australia. (ABC News: Norman Hermant)
Community housing associations are not-for-profit organisations that provide social housing. They've been growing as state governments transfer the management of public housing units over to them.
Now they're waiting to see how much backing community housing bonds will get in the federal budget. The goal is for bond amounts to be big enough to lure in large institutional investors.
In Australia, they typically invest in things like toll motorways and airports.
Large-scale private investment in social housing has been happening for decades in the UK. Generous government rent assistance and financial grants have helped community housing attract large-scale private investors.
Mr Lennon says he believes the same thing could happen here.
"We're at a point in Australia in which the community housing sector can mature with the right supports into that kind of environment," he said.
States to play key role in addressing 'funding gap'But everyone agrees a financing evolution for community housing also depends on the what happens in the states.
New South Wales has provided $1.1 billion in seed funding for the Social and Affordable Housing Fund. Interest from the fund will be used to help close the "funding gap" that makes it so hard for community housing associations to borrow.
The problem: most community housing tenants have low incomes and pay low rent. Often revenue isn't enough to cover operating costs and maintenance.
"The gap is between what people can afford to pay, and what it costs to run," said Wendy Hayhurst, CEO of the NSW Federation of Housing Associations.
"Whether you're a for profit developer or you're a community housing provider, that gap exists. And it has to be filled to make it stack up economically."
In Victoria, the Government has taken a similar approach to fill the "funding gap".
Its Social Housing Growth Fund is slated to reach a $1 billion endowment in four years. Interest from that fund will go to community housing associations to help get projects off the ground.
"We think there's a momentum building," said Lesley Dredge, from the Community Housing Federation of Victoria.
"We don't know yet, though, how all these elements come together."
The Port Phillip Housing Association's mixed-use development in Ashwood in Melbourne's southeast is an example of the projects community housing associations want to build.
Photo: Some of these Ashwood apartments were sold at market rates to help fund the remaining social units. (Supplied)
Of the 280 dwellings, 70 are private. They were sold at market rates to help fund construction of the remaining social and affordable units.
Part of the community housing is set aside for those over age 55. Most rely on social assistance payments, and say without their subsidised community housing unit they'd have nowhere else to go.
"I am very lucky to get this place," said tenant Nancy Moore.
"I lost everything 15 years ago. My husband, a house, my business. My mum. All within 10 months. And I bought myself a van, and I was a nomad for 15 years."
Photo: When Geoff and Suzanne McQuie first moved into community housing, they had nothing. (ABC News: Norman Hermant)
Tenants Geoff and Suzanne McQuie have a similar story.
"When we first came in here...we had virtually nothing," Mr McQuie said."We had a bag of dim sims in the fridge," Ms McQuie chimes in.
They say from their own experience they know the demand for community housing.
"There's a lot of people… for whatever reason, they're done and dusted. They're buggered. They've got nowhere to turn," Mr McQuie said.
"If you look at the amount of people that are around now… that are in a broken situation, that need housing, the Government's definitely got to supply it. Someone's got to supply it. You can't have them all living under a tree somewhere."