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 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.