29 September 2021

ACT Budget: $100 million to boost social and affordable housing

| Ian Bushnell
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Housing Minister Yvette Berry

Housing Minister Yvette Berry with tenants Novy Forcadas and Pat Bailey at new public housing units in Dickson earlier in the year. Photo: File.

The ACT Government will dedicate an extra $100 million to housing in next week’s ACT Budget, calling it one of the single largest investments in the history of self-government to provide essential housing for low-income Canberrans at risk of homelessness.

There is money for public housing maintenance, new homes and facilitating the Build to Rent model, which Chief Minister Andrew Barr says will be an increasingly important part of the housing options available to Canberrans.

The bulk of the package will go to the maintenance of public housing, with $80 million allocated over three years.

The state of some public housing sites has long been the source of complaints and negative media reports, and the government says this funding will ensure that public housing tenants live in safe and secure houses that suit their individual needs.

An additional $19 million will boost the Growing and Renewing Public Housing program, taking the total budget funding over the next four years to $96 million so the government can deliver on its commitment to provide 400 additional public housing dwellings and renew another 1000 properties by 2025.

A government spokesperson said the $19 million was part of the initial $100 million commitment for the Growing and Renewing Public Housing Program, which has since been expanded as part of the Government’s Economic Survival Package, in response to the prolonged impacts of COVID-19 on the local economy.

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“Whilst the Parliamentary and Governing Agreement of the 10th Legislative Assembly aims to further increase the Program targets and deliver a total of 400 additional public housing dwellings by 2025 (inclusive of the 260 dwellings already committed), funding for this remains subject to future budget considerations,” the spokesperson said.

The government is also investing in the Build to Rent model to increase the number of affordable and secure rental properties in the ACT.

It will spend $720,000 over four years to enable expressions of interest to build and operate long-term rental accommodation through the Build to Rent scheme on nominated land release sites in Turner and Lawson.

It has also allocated $640,000 for stage one of the Build to Rent model on the existing Common Ground site in Gungahlin, including due diligence, site feasibility investigations and concept design.

The government will also restructure financial support and negotiate a long-term agreement with Community Housing Canberra Limited to manage affordable rentals on behalf of the government.

It says this package improves social housing and housing affordability for Canberrans as part of the ACT Housing Strategy, with a broad range of measures that addresses the unique and complex challenges that exist in the housing market.

Housing and Suburban Development Minister Yvette Berry said the funding was a strong statement that the government is committed to growing, renewing, and maintaining a public housing portfolio that is better able to meet the needs of our diverse community, regardless of their abilities or circumstances.

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“In particular, the maintenance funding injection reflects our commitment to continuously improving the efficiency and effectiveness of maintenance services to provide homes that suit the diverse needs of our tenants,” she said.

“This commitment will enable tenants to live in suitable homes for families, people with disabilities, women escaping family and domestic violence and all households needing the support of public housing, including to age in place.”

Housing Services Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said the funding, along with the homelessness funding announced last week, would provide a home for more people and delivers on commitments in the Parliamentary and Governing Agreement.

“The $80 million boost to public housing maintenance will ensure that public housing tenants are treated with the respect we would expect from any other landlord, and so people can be proud of their home,” she said.

The government says housing affordability is a national challenge but has come under pressure from welfare groups to do more in a runaway sales and rental market that is leaving many Canberrans behind.

There are long waiting lists for public housing and the ACT Council of Social Services says there is a shortfall of 3000 social housing dwellings in the ACT and estimates that 12,600 households in the ACT are unable to enter the housing market or need housing assistance to avoid rental stress.

ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell welcomed the announcement.

“We are pleased that the ACT Government has responded to ACTCOSS’s call for additional investment for maintenance of public housing and the expansion of social housing in the ACT,” she said.

“Additional investment in the maintenance of the ACT’s public housing stock is long overdue. Poor upkeep of public housing puts tenants’ safety, health and wellbeing at risk.

“We wouldn’t expect our politicians or public servants to have to operate in broken down buildings with poor security and broken windows. Similarly, public housing tenants deserve to live in safe and well-maintained homes.”

She said it was hoped that the additional financial commitment to the growth and renewal program would accelerate the delivery of the promised 400 additional public housing dwellings and the renewal of 1000.

“We also welcome the investment in preparations for the delivery of ‘build to rent’ initiatives,” Dr Campbell said.

“The ACT’s Community Housing Providers are ‘build to rent’ specialists, focused on providing affordable rentals to Canberrans on low incomes.

“Their experience and expertise must be used to deliver build to rent projects if the ACT Government is going to meet its target of an additional 600 affordable rentals as promised in the ACT Parliamentary and Governing Agreement.”

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This is why the government should own almost zero public housing as it’s not an efficient way to deliver this service and is too easily politicised.

I’m In some agreement. I certainly think there’s options around ‘Community housing’ not Government housing. Other cities have worked in partnership with non profits and in addition, surely there’s potentially much better incentives for private landlords to charge more affordable rents than the failed systems they’ve recently tried.

Densification certainly isn’t happening as promised at the moment. I recently walked around the streets Turner and O’Connnor and 9 out of every 10 recent developments were knockdown rebuilds that finished with a single massive mansion, not smaller multi dwelling replacements.

Mr Barr has spent a lower proportion of the ACT Government budget on public housing each and every year.

He hides the real figures by selling off the existing public housing stock to private property developers and claiming the new housing builds as additional expenditure.

This budget money in this announcement is mainly long overdue property maintenance and is just more ‘affordable housing’ smoke and mirrors.

When are the Canberra media going to finally call out Mr Barr on over a decade of failed housing policies and unrealised claims on affordable housing?

While the headline is about money being spent on public housing, reality is that Government policy on property (Rates and Land Tax) contributes to the high cost of housing in Canberra, increasing the demand for public housing demand.

If I rented our house, I would need to collect $8,000 a year from the tenant, just to pay the Rates & Land Tax. That’s $154 per week.

How will the $100 million be paid for? I’m guessing more Rates.

$80m needed to simply maintain existing properties while there is a shortfall of 3000 social housing dwellings in the ACT and estimates that 12,600 households in the ACT are unable to enter the housing market or need housing assistance. the $20m left buys what? ~20 homes, or ~40 2-bed apartments?

Virtue signalling, pissing into the wind or shuffling deck chairs on the titanic?

ChrisinTurner1:21 pm 29 Sep 21

It is good to see some of the profits made by widespread demolition of “dilapidated” social housing around Civic, and sale of the land to developers, being fed back into social housing.

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