6 August 2020

Calls for Commonwealth to pitch in as ACT adds $61 million to public housing program

| Ian Bushnell
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Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Housing Minister Yvette Berry

Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Housing Minister Yvette Berry at a public housing construction site in Dickson for the $61 million announcement. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

The ACT Government has announced a $61 million expansion and acceleration of its 10-year public housing renewal program but says even more could be done if the Commonwealth came to the party with its own contribution.

The announcement comes after Homelessness Australia released data showing there was a shortfall of 3000 dwellings in the ACT.

Housing Minister Yvette Berry said that while the government’s billion dollar public housing program, the biggest in 30 years of self-government, was a nation-leading effort for the second-smallest jurisdiction in the country, the ACT could not do it all on its own.

“Having the federal government support that by investing their own money or by waiving our historic public housing debt so we can invest more would make a significant difference,” she said.

Ms Berry said that if the Commonwealth did provide money for housing, the ACT Government would find the land, now and into the future, on which to build.

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

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he had a verbal understanding with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on refinancing the ACT’s $150 million housing debt but waiving it would free up resources to provide even more housing supports.

The $61 million builds on previous investments and will be split three ways – $32 million for land, $20 million for construction of 60 additional new public housing dwellings across Canberra and $8.9 million over two years to boost general property and energy efficiency upgrades.

The 60 new dwellings will bring the total additional public housing under the program to at least 260 homes.

These new homes will be Class C adaptable builds for people with a disability and older Canberrans.

Adaptable public housing under construction in Dickson

Adaptable public housing under construction in Dickson.

The government will also be upgrading up to 1300 existing dwellings with new reverse-cycle heating and cooling, highly efficient electric hot water systems and new stoves.

More than 250 properties will also receive upgrades to their kitchens, bathrooms or laundries, as well as roof replacements to some standalone dwellings.

Four Housing ACT multi-unit complexes will also be upgraded, with external painting at two complexes, replacement balconies at another and major roof upgrades at a fourth.

She said the government’s focus was on providing homes to people who needed them most and supporting other services such as OneLink and CatholicCare, which was giving the city’s rough sleepers shelter and helping them into permanent housing.

The government is also looking to boost community housing through an increase to the existing Land Tax Exemption pilot so that it will apply to 125 properties, and by removing the current time period of two years for this exemption. This scheme provides an incentive for landlords to charge below-market rent.

Mr Barr said that with the economy contracting because of COVID-19, now was the right time to be investing in housing which will also provide a pipeline of work for the construction industry and create jobs.

The ACT Council of Social Services CEO Dr Emma Campbell said more adaptable housing was welcome to prevent social isolation and premature entry into nursing care.

“These investments are vital at a time when increasing numbers of people are vulnerable to the impacts of an economic downturn,” she said.

“We know that even with temporary increases to income support payments there is almost no private rental housing in Canberra which is affordable to people on income support.

“That’s why we need work to boost the availability of community housing and lower cost private rental properties.”

Dr Campbell said ACTCOSS was also calling on the Federal Government to include investment in social housing in the 2020-21 Federal Budget and to waive the ACT’s public housing debt under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement.

The ACT provides the most public housing per 1000 people of any Australian state or territory at 26 per 1000 people, more than double the national average of 12.

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With the extensive drug trafficking in a single public housing complex, the ACT is losing 70 units because they are not safe for people to live in. It’s not useful to build additional public housing units if those units are not going to be safe for people to live in.

Mike of Canberra11:38 am 08 Aug 20

Three points here. First in relation to the ACTCOSS representative’s comments on relative rental unaffordability in Canberra, has she in any way sought to draw a link between this and the insane level of rates, charges and other taxes imposed by Barr and company? Thought not. Second, perhaps instead of wasting money by lavishing more welfare and related entitlements on these people, it is vital that the ACT Government finds a way to make the homeless job-ready and link them with suitable jobs. You would think ACTCOSS and the ACT Government by now would have put their heads together to put such strategies in place but again, thought not. Third, as I’ve said before, housing the homeless is a rather more complex matter than simply matching homeless people with new or existing rental stock. In all too many cases, such people will need to learn how to be tenants, which is why I feel some form of “halfway house” accommodation could be needed to provide a staging post between living on the street and living in your own rented accommodation. If such strategies were implemented, maybe using some of the $61m, perhaps those who genuinely and unavoidably need welfare support services at some time during their lives would be able to access more generous levels of such support. Not to apply such strategies is setting up the matching of homeless people with new public housing for failure. But failure really is a byword for the current ACT Government isn’t it? Things really have to change come October.

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