22 January 2021

Budget to give extra boost to public housing as report shows decline

| Ian Bushnell
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ACT Greens Minister for Homelessness and Housing Services Rebecca Vassarotti.

ACT Greens Minister for Homelessness and Housing Services Rebecca Vassarotti has been pushing for a bigger spend on public housing. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The number of public housing properties in the ACT has declined during the past decade despite a growing population and a property boom that has forced more people into an increasingly unaffordable rental market with the highest rents in the country.

The Productivity Commission’s ‘Report on Government Services’ says there were 11,063 public housing properties in 2011, compared to 10,985 in 2020.

The number of social housing dwellings rose, reflecting a shift to that sector, but the increase was only slight, rising from 661 to 936.

Social welfare advocates estimate the ACT now has a shortfall of 3000 public and social housing properties, and 1600 homeless people, although the ACT Government estimates there are only about 50 who are sleeping rough.

But government spending has risen from 2015-2016 to 2019-2020, with public housing expenditure increasing from $114.4 million to $139.6 million, and social housing going up from $124.4 million to $144 million.

The report comes as the government prepares to make a pre-budget announcement this week that is expected to reveal a bigger spend on public housing in the wake of the October ACT election and the Parliamentary Agreement with the ACT Greens, which promised during the campaign that it would provide 1000 new properties to those in need.

Under the Greens proposal, $200 million would be spent on 600 new ‘climate-ready’ rental properties for people in need, while an additional $200 million would go to a further 400 properties for social housing.

After the election, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said Labor and the Greens were not too far apart on housing commitments, and the announcement on Tuesday, 26 January, will likely reflect the goals in the Parliamentary Agreement hammered out during the parties’ post-election negotiations.

The agreement states that the government will aim to deliver a total of 400 additional public housing dwellings by 2025, inclusive of the 260 additional dwellings already committed for the period 2019-2025.

It also says the government will strive to deliver 600 additional affordable housing dwellings by 2025-2026.

Housing is one of several policy areas where responsibilities are split between Labor’s Yvette Berry and the Greens’ Rebecca Vassarotti, who is committed to the new government doing more to help those caught up in the ACT’s rental crisis.

Andrew Barr and Yvette Berry.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and ACT Minister for Housing and Suburban Development Yvette Berry at the launch of new public housing in Dickson in 2020. Photo: File.

A government spokesperson said that during the 10 years to 2025, the government would have invested more than $1 billion in public housing, including the first tranche of renewing 1288 properties.

The spokesperson said that through the subsequent Growing and Renewing Public Housing Program, the government is renewing 1000 homes and will build 400 new homes, which is one of the largest investments in public housing per capita in Australia.

“The ACT has the highest ratio of public housing in the country, but also has some of the oldest,” said the spokesperson.

“The ACT Government has continued investing in both growing and renewing our ageing public housing stock to build and maintain a public housing portfolio that meet the needs of current and future tenants.

“The ACT Government is committed to delivering additional housing at a rate that can be achieved given factors such as land availability, industry and sector capacity to deliver additional housing, and capital demand on the Territory Budget.”

The spokesperson said the government provides more than $141 million in rental subsidies to public housing tenants each year, and in 2020 also provided a one-off payment of $250 to relieve pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government had initiated a range of tax measures to increase affordable rental housing to support renters on lower incomes, is building Common Ground Dickson, and allocates 15 per cent of all government land releases to affordable, social and community housing.

It also provided more funds for homelessness services and crisis accommodation in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government also continues to call on the Federal Government to match its commitment to grow public housing – for example, by waiving historic housing debts, as was done for Tasmania, so the savings can be redirected into the sector.

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