ACT has 3000 shortfall in social housing, says new homelessness data

Ian Bushnell 4 August 2020 6
Homeless man blowing on hands to keep warm.

A social housing boost will give welfare recipients and low-wage workers homes they can afford, and stimulate the economy, say campaigners. Photo: File.

The ACT needs about 3000 extra social housing dwellings to ensure there is a secure roof over people’s heads, according to new data that has mapped Canberra’s homelessness crisis.

Using Australian Bureau of Statistics census data and research from the Australian Urban and Housing Research Institute, the Western Sydney University has generated interactive heat maps of federal electorates showing the number of homeless people and the housing shortfall.

Released for the launch of National Homelessness Week, the maps show how widespread the problem is, said Homelessness Australia and campaign organiser Everybody’s Home.

Chair of Homelessness Australia, Jenny Smith, said the heatmaps showed that homelessness is a problem in all ACT communities.

“People often think homelessness is an issue mainly in cities and CBDs, but the maps show that to be a myth,” she said.

“The lack of housing that people can afford is not only the biggest cause of homelessness, but it also prevents people escaping from homelessness.”

In the ACT, that amounts to 1600 homeless people, with 900 in the central electorate of Canberra, 400 in Fenner and 300 in Bean.

Everybody’s Home spokesperson Kate Colvin said the 3000 extra social housing dwellings also include those needed for people in extreme rent stress. Fenner, in the ACT’s north, needs the most at 1100, followed by Canberra at 1000, and Bean, in the south, at 900.

Ms Colvin said the campaign, backed by property industry groups, is calling on the Federal Government to lead a social housing building program across Australia in collaboration with the states and territories.

She said social housing has fallen away in recent years and COVID-19’s impact on the economy and jobs means the need is greater than ever.

The ACT rental market is one of Australia’s tightest. Unit rents are the highest in the nation and standalone houses are second only to Sydney.

“In the ACT, there’s a lot of pressure on that rental market, particularly those who are on low incomes struggling to compete with higher paid workers, and end up paying a lot more than they can afford to rent,” said Ms Colvin.

She said “affordable” properties offered at 20 per cent below market rent were still too expensive for welfare recipients or insecure, low-wage workers. Rent for social housing would need to range between 25-30 per cent of incomes to give such tenants security.

Ms Colvin said emergency measures, such as those taken by the ACT Government this year to get rough sleepers off the streets, were positive but a long-term solution is needed.

“The process of rehousing people gets stuck in a bottleneck because there’s just not enough affordable housing for people,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter how many support workers you provide – if there is no housing they can afford – if you can’t find them a home to move into permanently.”

Ms Colvin said the Federal Government had often come to the party when faced with an economic crisis.

ACT Housing Minister Yvette Berry.

ACT Housing Minister Yvette Berry say it is imperative to providing accommodation as well as support for homeless people. Photo: File.

ACT Housing Minister Yvette Berry said the ACT Government is delivering the largest ever investment in public housing.

She said the $600 million program, Growing and Renewing Public Housing 2019-2024, will add at least 200 new public housing tenancies, and renew 1000 existing public housing tenancies, supported by $100 million in new capital funding, on top of the earlier $550 million public housing renewal program that resulted in 1288 properties replaced over four years.

The ACT Government is also working towards a second Common Ground project in Dickson that will provide 40 social and affordable homes.

It has also committed $45 million to continue to support the 28 organisations that comprise the ACT Specialist Homelessness Sector, and invested $6.5 million to support new programs for older women and asylum seekers at risk of homelessness.

The government’s ‘housing first’ partnership with CatholicCare and St Vincent de Paul has housed 22 individuals sleeping rough in the ACT in the past few months, said Ms Berry.

”The immediate government response to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic conditions includes $3 million in support to people facing homelessness or domestic and family violence,” she said.

The ACT Government has also called on the Federal Government to forgive the historic housing debt which would then be reinvested to build more public housing.

The ACT Greens will take a comprehensive housing package into October’s ACT election that includes $200 million investment to create 600 new affordable climate-ready rental properties for people in need through community housing, and a $200 million investment to create 400 new climate-ready public housing properties.

The Canberra Liberals said they would freeze rates, deliver rent relief and release more land for affordable housing in the ACT.

The interactive heat map can be viewed here.


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6 Responses to ACT has 3000 shortfall in social housing, says new homelessness data
Spiral Spiral 5:44 am 06 Aug 20

Perhaps we need to do an audit of people in government housing to confirm they still need it.

The most high profile example of course was Green’s MLA Deb Foskey who refused to leave her public housing after being elected. Then, when she did leave parliament she relocated to Victoria.

Even today her actions have the support of the current Greens, so it seems unlikely they would support an audit.

I wonder how many other “Deb Foskey”s are currently occupying government housing, denying places to those who really need it.

Mike of Canberra Mike of Canberra 8:08 pm 05 Aug 20

This ACT Government has no idea about managing public housing. As I’ve said many times before, we’re told by the Government, Tenants Union etc that the miscreants in public housing are a small minority. If that’s so, basic management principles mean that the Housing authority should focus on this minority and give them the choice of cleaning up their act or leaving. This would benefit not only neighbouring private residents but also other, presumably well-behaved public tenants. Sorting this lot out would certainly help with housing stock. But there’s another measure that would help even more. This a comprehensive audit of the ACT public housing estate with a view to weeding out those not entitled to such housing and, especially, those who seek to profit from it by rorting the system through multiple leases, sub-leasing etc. And who would benefit then? The many, many people who qualify for but are seemingly shut out from ever gaining access to public housing. Who knows, maybe our public housing estate would revert to one that exists primarily to benefit those who give back by working in low paid jobs, not just those who permanently leech on that system. But under this tired, old hubristic government? Don’t think so. We have the chance to change in October, no ifs, buts, maybes, “the other lot would be worse” etc, but real change that cleanses not only the failures in public housing but a host of rotting, corrupt empires that undoubtedly continue to operate in the shadows. We simply can’t afford to miss this chance.

Paul Chubb Paul Chubb 7:15 pm 05 Aug 20

Finland housing first is best practise. The idea is to place the homeless in normal housing: rental apartments etc and then wrap committed services around. At this point - 13 years on - they don't have emergency accomodation because the homeless move immediately into quality housing and are supported to keep housed and rebuild their lives. The two keys as pointed out above are actual places and support services tailored to the situation.

Mathew Richards Mathew Richards 4:31 pm 05 Aug 20

Civic Flats, The great Wall in Melba, Mawson Units, The Narrabunda Housing, Oaks Estate. This is nothing new. The biggest problem is the people living in government housing that need help with their addictions in not all cases but in many cases. Build new housing, great idea, but the criminal drug dealers and then the users must be called out and kicked out. How do I know? Due to my circumstances I spent 3 months in the Oakes Estate. Never a drug user or seller, but they were in every second unit. My kids live in Gunghalin, they tell me, right or wrong, the problem that was in Civic is now there. I was in a St Vinnies House for men near Dickson for 4 months. At least 50% were addicted or alcholic. ST vinnies were fantastic but never during that time did anybody from Government come in and ask what we needed. Homeless people? They Can't be bothered with. Ainslie Village is the classic example, they set it up, house people but do nothing to help the people that survive there. You can build what ever you like, you need the government services to help the people to get on in their lives.

Ray Adams Ray Adams 1:00 pm 05 Aug 20

All huff and puffs.

Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 11:41 am 05 Aug 20

We need to build hostels again.

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