9 March 2021

ACT Government braces for increase in homelessness as public housing waiting list expands

| Dominic Giannini
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ACT Minister for Homelessness and Housing Services Rebecca Vassarotti.

ACT Minister for Homelessness and Housing Services Rebecca Vassarotti has acknowledged that increased income pressure will have implications on social housing waitlists. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The ACT Government is bracing for an increase in demand and stretched waiting times for public housing with the tapering off of welfare payments and a tight rental market in Canberra.

The increase in applications coming through for public housing will have implications on homelessness, rough sleeping and overcrowding, admitted ACT Minister for Homelessness and Housing Services Rebecca Vassarotti in Committee Hearings last week.

“Absolutely we saw an increase in the waiting list which was not unexpected given the economic impacts of COVID-19 … [and] we could well see a [continued] increase in waiting lists,” she said.

“We have reflected on some of the changes to income support, and with the reduction of the COVID-19 supplement in terms of JobSeeker. It would not be surprising if this puts some further stress on household income.”

Housing ACT received more than 1800 applications – including almost 540 transfer applications – for social housing in 2019-2020.

There are currently almost 3000 people on the waiting list, with an average wait time of more than 1300 days, or 3.6 years.

READ MORE ACTCOSS questions JobSeeker rise: “What changed that it is now OK for people to live below the poverty line?”

Referring to these figures, ACT Shadow Housing Minister Mark Parton questioned whether the expanding waitlist would mean “there are those who just cannot find a spot on the merry-go-round”.

Minister Vassarotti conceded the waiting list is too long, but said the priority list is housing more people, more quickly.

“One of the things the waiting list process does is it tries to identify who are the people who are in the greatest need,” she said. “While the data is about the general list, we do have the priority list and the higher needs list.

“[But] certainly it is a long time to be on the general services list.”

More than 99 per cent of people on the priority and high-needs list are being allocated housing within the three month period, said Geoff Aigner, executive branch manager of client services at Housing ACT.

“We do regular reassessments on our waiting lists,” he said.

“We have had some delays in that during the past year given that people have been working in and out of the office, but our intent for the next year is to get back to a higher frequency of reassessments.”

ACT Community Services Directorate executive director Louise Gilding said housing pressures are also exacerbated by low vacancy rates in the private rental market.

“When we see a tightening of our general vacancy rates, which we have seen in the private sector, people are less able to meet their housing needs and we do see that increase to our waiting list,” she said.

“We are seeing an increase in numbers and an increase in complexity.”

Minister Vassarotti said the ACT Government recognises the need to increase housing stock and pointed towards the government’s commitment to build 400 more affordable rentals, and renew a further 1000 houses to help reduce housing stress.

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Peter Montgomery9:26 am 12 Mar 21

I think that our politicians have their priorities all wrong. It is obscene to be spending so much money on a light rail when there is a crisis in community housing. Sure build the light rail, a bit more slowly. Governments can borrow at 1% interest. Rental on government housing must be able to return 3% interest. Better than a never to give a return train set.

From what I am aware of and have encountered in the last decade, the ACT public housing list waiting times had already been bad for many years now, with many people on waiting lists for very long periods of time, some for years, partly seemingly due to inattention of cases. I believe there is either not enough public housing available or the system is not able to manage the placements and cases for public housing effectively.

To be fair, on the flip side, the long waiting periods also discourages people from situations and circumstances that lead to avoidable and preventable requirements of public housing that could be addressed in other ways. The support systems in these regards had not there to deal with the complexities, such as counselling and amicable conflict resolution services for families and relationships.

Public housing is obviously an urgent necessity for the most vulnerable people, such as people with disabilities or victims of domestic violence.

In my public housing complex in Lyneham housing ACT have allocated two bedroom units to a dozen single people and one three bedroom unit allocated to an affluent appearing single male.
Clearly favoritism has been shown to certain people. Huge waste of $5million the building of the two complexes in this street, they could easily house more needy people not greedy ex public servants.

In addition to my last comment , one of the single tenants I referred to ‘moved in’ in 2018 and has only ever visited her unit every few weeks untill last December, stayed around two weeks with her mother around Christmas and has not been seen since. She has leased a public housing unit she clearly doesn’t need or want and housing never take notice or really listen when the matter is raised. Yet another breach of the RTA that’s one of many ignored by a thoroughly ignorant government.

Mike of Canberra3:34 pm 10 Mar 21

If you were expecting anything new, imaginative or innovative from our new Minister Vassarotti for management of public housing you had better think again. Instead, we get yet another puff piece and that’s about as much as she is going to do.

What needs to be done first of all, Ms Vassarotti, is a thorough audit of public housing to weed out waste and corruption. That ought to free up some space. Secondly, targeting of clients is imperative. For example, if it is possible for a 16-year-old pregnant girl to live with her parents until she gets her life in order, this should be the priority, freeing up housing for families in desperate need. Additionally, drug and alcohol-free hostels, including appropriate security arrangements, for homeless men and women instead of houses or apartments should be given serious consideration. These would be far more cost effective to build and would give people in need safe, warm shelter with their own facilities and a common dining room providing nutritious meals. They don’t need to be large, and several could be built in different suburbs. This would also provide the opportunity for these people to expand their life skills through managing the grounds, preparing meals, doing repairs, etc, while at the same time affording them access to services to help address life issues such as addictions that may affect their effective functioning. Thirdly public houses held on extremely expensive land should be sold and those funds directly funnelled into building more targeted housing across the city. Remember, Ms Vassarotti, we the tax and ratepayers of this city own this public housing, not you.

What we propose is not rocket science. What is rocket science is finding some decent politicians and charities in this town to adopt sensible solutions to problems.

Government housing should be allocated to the poorest and most vulnerable in society. The current social housing policy in the ACT is inequitable and does not go to the most needy in the community. Public housing should not be for life, and should be based purely on need and income. If someone is poor and unemployed and lives in public housing, but later earns more money and gets a good job, they should leave public housing and free up the government house for someone else who desperately needs it. If a person has higher income, they have means to live elsewhere, and they should not be in public housing. This would allow a much less fortunate and more needy person to have a government home.

The answer to this problem is not more public housing, it is more efficiently using the existing stock to place people in suitable homes (and move them if circumstances change) as well as maximising the assistance to get people into the private rental market.

There is no reason why the government should hold such a large amount of public housing stock. It is inefficient and leads to poor outcomes for a lot of people who would be perfectly able to operate in the private rental market but for the cost.

If managed efficiently, government could own every single property and it wouldn’t matter to some degree. Who owns the property doesn’t really make much of a difference, if the system is well managed. But as has been apparent for a long while, it isn’t well managed at all.

The key issue is moving people on when circumstances change – that simply doesn’t seem to happen at all here.

That’s the point, the government and the public service areas running it are never going to have the power or the will to manage the area efficiently.

Which is why most people should be moved to private rentals which would be far more efficient in matching tenants to properties and fixing problems.

There is only a very small amount of the population who have issues that make them unsuitable for the private market and those are the peopke that public housing should be used for.

Unfortunately you have parties like the Greens who would seem to prefer everyone being housed in a government owned property and want to massively expand the government’s property holdings.

Is the private sector any better at matching tenants to properties and fixing problems at that lower end of the socio-economic scale? I’m not sure it really is, though fully understand what your saying. Yes the almighty $ can help create efficiency for private management/ownership, but it doesn’t necessarily correlate to promoting necessarily optimal outcomes for tenants either…. I think its arguable one way or the other (doesn’t mean current Gov approach is not awfully mismanaged however!)

We have such a segmented market in Canberra that really doesn’t help, in terms of market composition (property market I mean) – driven by the fact we have a very well off substantial element in the market that naturally will dictate prices, and those at the bottom end really seem to badly struggle.

I think its important that a definition be recognised between public and gov provided ‘social housing’ – your argument is that we need less of the second one, compared to what the greens want which is more in that space (noting in either case there is an underlying public housing need for those facing the greatest challenges).

My broader point is that the end ‘owner’ of the property (i.e. private vs public) doesn’t matter as much as some think, if managed relatively well.

Yes the private market would be far more efficient at matching tenants to properties because the tenants themselves will only have limited funds and would therefore use them more cautiously in dwellings that better suited their needs.

One of the main problems we currently have is that once someone is in a government owned property, the government doesn’t and will never have the political will to move them on efficiently if their circumstances change.

Whereas the private market would have no such qualms and the tenants themselves wouldn’t want to waste money.

There have been multiple occasions recently with people going to the media because a family member might be moved out of their (massive) government property because “they’ve lived there for decades”.

The government then folds like a piece of paper to the political pressure.

It’s a ridiculous situation that is only fixed by removing the government from the equation.

ChrisinTurner2:28 pm 10 Mar 21

The government demolished hundreds of well built air-conditioned, 2-bedroom public housing apartments in the ABC Flats next to the Canberra Centre. They are being replaced with expensive, mostly one-bedroom private apartments, with zero public housing. Where are the people who lived here? Probably on the waiting lists.

When I came to Canberra, hostels were an option to live in, at least for singles and couples without children. Shame they are no more, as they would solve some of the shortage of places to live, at least for young people without children. I lived in both the YWCA in Civic for a year and later, for a few months, Hotel Acton. I think there were even a few families living at Hotel Acton in small separate dwellings. I enjoyed my time living in them and socialising with the other tenants.

Blaming the return to pre-COVID level of welfare is hilarious. Rebecca Vassarotti and the rest of the ACT Labor/greens coalition are failing the less fortunate, and are entirely to blame for this issue. Raising the cost of living through rate and tax hikes, then wasting billions of dollars on virtue signalling has directly caused this. They could have been fixing issues like homelessness, healthcare and education.

Bing! Nailed it. Yes they will continue rolling out ever more subsidisation programs, further pushing up costs, further pushing up rates, requiring even more assistance… guess where this ends.

And the issue is only going to get worse with the new rental laws. Why would a landlord cop a 10% increase in costs while only being able to raise rent to an existing tenant by CPI, which is just over 1%? You are going to have moving expenses every 12 months as well, because a new tenant can be charged market rate. Long term tenants no longer make financial sense.

I’m confused, why is building more public housing the only answer?
According to ACT Community Services they have 12,000 public housing dwellings across the ACT, and according to the 2016 Census they were 82,000 private dwellings across the ACT. This means about 10% of dwellings in Canberra are for public housing, how can this not be enough?
The eligibility for public housing is an income of $40,000 per year for a single person for when someone is allocated a dwelling. But, what are the income circumstances for when that person will be asked to leave public housing? We all remember when a Member of the Legislative Assembly was found to be living in public housing.
Is the government sufficiently managing who continues to stay in public housing?

Amanda Kiley1:47 pm 10 Mar 21

As I understand, once you are in a public house you are in it. There is only income testing when you are first allocated a home.

Not sure what census data your looking at – must be a subset. Actual number of dwelligns was about double that – https://quickstats.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2016/quickstat/8ACTE

That 82,000 dwellings number excluded southern Canberra from the Census data count.

Meaning (by the powers of deduction) he must be an ACT Government person who routinely ignores the Southside when discussing housing, funding or people. ?

I guess when the ACT government knocked down all the public housing units on Northbourne Avenue, there was always going to be a shortage of public housing. The government should be buying some of the new apartments that are going up everywhere to put tenants in.

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