17 May 2023

Cost of living inquiry report highlights 'unacceptable' delays to public housing delivery program

| Claire Fenwicke
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public housing under construction

Housing ACT’s capacity to deliver the Growing and Renewing Public Housing program has been questioned in the cost of living inquiry report. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Do more to fix the housing crisis: that’s the overwhelming message from an inquiry into cost of living pressures in the ACT.

The Select Committee into Cost of Living Pressures handed down its report containing 52 recommendations for the ACT Government. The suggestions spanned a range of areas including health, education, legal services, income support, community services, transport and advocacy.

But two dissenting reports were also tabled by two members of the committee, with housing the main sticking point.

Greens MLA Johnathan Davis pointed to frustrations expressed to the inquiry about delays in building more public and community housing under the Growing and Renewing Public Housing program, which has seen hundreds of public housing tenants notified they’ll have to relocate.

“Delays of 12 months or more, and houses and empty lots sitting vacant while waiting for the next stages of development are unacceptable, both to the committee and to the community,” Mr Davis said.

“This government set itself an ambitious goal to deliver more homelessness services, more accessible public houses and better laws for renters. The committee heard consistently that we must do more to achieve these ambitious goals.”

The Growing and Renewing Public Housing program aims to invest $100 million over five years to deliver 1400 homes. The program plans to redevelop about 300 existing sites to deliver 700 new homes, build about 420 new homes in vacant purchased land, and buy 140 homes. An additional 140 properties were added to the growth target as part of the Parliamentary and Governing Agreement.

Johnathan Davis MLA.

Johnathan Davis tabled the cost of living report to the Legislative Assembly. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The committee heard construction of some public housing projects had been delayed for 12 months or longer, which was determined “unacceptable” given there were 3000 people on the waitlist.

Concerned about the delays to the Growing and Renewing Public Housing program, it recommended the Auditor-General consider conducting a performance audit into its management.

“The evidence indicated the strategies chosen to meet the delivery of our public housing targets are not working,” Mr Davis said.

“I refuse to accept this means we should change our public housing targets.

“If we cannot sell, demolish and build public housing on the same site fast enough to meet our targets, try something else. If the strategies being utilised are not working, find new strategies.”

Other recommendations included speeding up the demolition of old vacant properties, the construction of new properties, and increasing Housing ACT’s capacity to deliver the Growing and Renewing Public Housing program.

READ ALSO ACT rental ombudsman proposed in bid to hold landlords – private and government – to account

Mr Davis also issued three dissenting recommendations not agreed to by the other inquiry members.

He also called on the government to explore ways to further regulate the price of rent in the private market (such as rent freezes), consider further interventions to restrict rent increases, and amend the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 to prevent landlords or real estate agencies from accepting above-advertised rent.

Rent bidding is now illegal in the ACT, however it is legal for someone to offer to pay extra to secure a rental.

“Cost of living pressures are hitting people hard,” Mr Davis said.

“This is a rental crisis – the ACT Government must consider calls to freeze and further cap rents.”

Liberals MLA and fellow inquiry committee member Nicole Lawder also took aim at issues in housing and health.

She called on the ACT Government to stop raising rates and land tax, stop its “continued over regulation of the rental market” and release more blocks of land for housing to address high demand.

“This government continues to fail Canberrans in [the housing] space, and [if] we continue doing what we’re already doing, we will continue to fail, and that’s what’s happening here,” Ms Lawder said.

“Despite the alliance with the Greens, who promised a home for all, we’re nowhere near a home for all, and it’s quite devastating to find they’re a long way from achieving that goal, if at all.

Ms Lawder also wanted the government to make certain general practices exempt from paying payroll tax, which she said would result in higher out-of-pocket expenses at the doctor.

READ ALSO Watson cohousing proposal moves to design stage

Other recommendations from the report included to:

  • increase the number of walk-in support places for mental health support
  • expand access to free dental services, particularly for young people and people with disability
  • increase funding to Legal Aid ACT by at least $250,000 annually
  • improve communication and raise awareness of concession schemes through Access Canberra
  • expand the free meal program to all ACT public schools
  • add more courses to the free CIT course list, particularly in areas of building and construction, aged care and mental health
  • consider introducing an online support platform for gig economy workers
  • provide funding for freight and delivery costs for local foodbank services.

The government has four months to table its response to the Legislative Assembly.

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What on earth did people think the consequences of lockdowns would be? The cost of living pressures we’re all feeling are just the beginning of the economic catastrophe that lockdowns were. Obvious and predictable.

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