13 November 2022

Getting public housing to meet new ceiling insulation standards a big (and possibly costly) job

| Lottie Twyford
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Apartment building with graffiti

The new rules which will mandate minimum ceiling insulation standards will also apply to public housing in the ACT. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

New rules mandating minimum ceiling insulation standards in the Territory’s rentals will result in a large amount of work for Housing ACT, given it doesn’t yet know how many properties will require upgrades.

In annual reports hearings last week, officials conceded they would need to start gathering data about its 11,000-odd dwellings before it could even outline the scope and cost of the change.

Opposition spokesperson for housing Mark Parton questioned officials about how many public housing dwellings did not meet ceiling insulation minimum standards which will begin to be mandatory from next April.

They did not know.

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Executive Group Manager Housing ACT Louise Gilding foreshadowed the task was likely to be significant as around 4000 of its dwellings were older than 40 years old and were unlikely to meet current standards.

“Historically, when we’ve done our property condition assessments, we actually haven’t collected specific data about insulation and how much of it is in each housing property,” Gilding said.

“As a first step, we are doing property assessments across all of our properties and portfolios to gather that information accurately … so we can say this is how many will need an upgrade.

“This is an opportunity for us to undertake a property condition stocktake across the whole [portfolio].”

She said previous upgrades had been more likely to focus on kitchens, painting and carpets than on insulation.

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Mr Parton characterised the Government as being behind the eight ball as it had yet to investigate the works required to implement its own new regulations on properties it owned.

“Doesn’t it seem a little odd that you don’t know?” he questioned.

Neither the minister nor officials could put a figure on the cost of the upgrades, which Mr Parton claimed could spiral upwards of $30 million.

“At $5000 an installation for an average house just for the roof and using the 4000 older homes quoted by Housing ACT in the hearings, it is a cost of at least $20 million,” he said.

“The prospect of the Government not being able to comply with its own legislation is quite comical.”

Yvette Berry

Housing Minister Yvette Berry became exasperated with Mr Parton’s line of questioning at times. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Housing Minister Yvette Berry argued the ongoing renewal program (sale of old public housing and construction of new stock), would help decrease the number of older and therefore non-compliant properties.

But she conceded any construction and upgrade works were likely to be complicated due to a nationwide shortage of construction workers and materials.

“I’m not going to pretend this isn’t the case … and [could be] with insulation as well,” she told the hearing.

Mr Parton and Ms Berry engaged in their now all-too-familiar debate on whether there had been a net increase in public housing stock in the ACT in the past decade.

Ms Berry said the number would have fallen by at least 1000 due to the Canberra Liberals having “sold off” properties the last time they were in government (in 2001).

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According to the latest Community Services Directorate annual report, there were 10,723 public dwellings in the Territory in 2021.

The 2011 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare states there were – at the time – 11,063 public dwellings.

Ms Berry has warned a net increase in public housing stock won’t be reached in a linear manner due to the workings of the renewal program.

She said the promised additional 400 properties and 1000 renewed existing ones would be delivered by 2025.

More than 3000 people are on the waiting list for public housing in the ACT.

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William Newby4:58 pm 14 Nov 22

Another policy home goal for Berry and Barr.
Can only imagine Senior Directors at housing ACT scrambling as this policy came out, cursing and saying “I wish wed been consulted”.
These costs will 100% be passed onto the tenants.
Thought farts are all the Labor/Greens seem to be able to roll out these days.

Mark Parton is outraged that estimates of costs to upgrade public housing would be $30 million. He claims that this is comical. I am pleased and surprised that we have 11,000-odd public housing properties. If his estimate of $30-million dollars to upgrade this stock is accurate I consider the money well spent. Especially after the significant sell-off and degradation of public housing we saw under the Kate Carnell government (thanks Brendan). Yes it was all those years ago but this government has been working diligently since then to bring this stock back up to reasonable standards. The government’s ruling to mandate minimum insulation standards for public housing only goes part way in making these people’s lives more comfortable. Mr Parton’s splutter is an example of what the public and its housing tenants can expect under a Liberal government!

We’ve had a decline in the number of public housing dwellings, a very high decline in the proportion of public housing dwellings in Canberra, record waiting lists and record homelessness. And you’re still congratulating the ACT government?

ACT Labor has been as equally bad as ACT Liberals ever were. Maybe even worse.

Labor selling off unprecedented levels of inner city public housing land to private developers over the last decade whilst not delivering on their new public housing commitments sounds exactly like a move from the Liberal playbook.

Jack D,
There comes a time when you can no longer blame a previous Government for your problems.
Blaming the Libs after 20 years in Government is ridiculous. Any issues with ACT Public Housing are well and truly the responsibility of the Labor/Greens Government.

You are wrong on most points bj_ACT! Yes we do have larger numbers of those in homelessness throughout Australia. I would put that down to 10 years of conservative government. Of course governments can do more for homelessness, they always can. I would also argue that the ACT government has been working hard to increase and improve public housing despite a lack of commonwealth assistance. This has its challenges. The federal government could start by waiving the housing debt (yes both sides are guilty). They did so for Tasmania and SA. Yes many inner housing tenants were moved to other locations in Canberra. They were moved to more modern, comfortable and updated housing. These tenants were provided with a number of choices and significant assistance from the government. As with any change, not everyone supported this process. Have you ever gone out and helped any of the homeless in Canberra bj? Have you ever dealt with the good people at ACT Housing and other agencies devoted to helping these people? There are many good people in the community but also a lot of sadness out there!

Jack, analysis by a previous Cheif Minister shows this government has reduced public housing to fund light rail.

Wrong on most of my points? You’re an absolute farce of a poster.

My points were:

We’ve had a decline in our number of public housing dwellings. This is correct and backed by ACTCOSS and ABS Census data.

We’ve had a decline in the proportion of public housing. Patently true.

Labor has sold off unprecedented levels of inner city public housing. Absolutely true again.

Have I ever gone out and helped the homeless? Many times

Glitch halfway through my previous reply…..

Have I ever dealt with the good people of ACT Housing? You betcha I have. My elderly father is in seniors community housing here. The ACT housing people are a mixed bag, some are good some have made very poor mistakes and stuffed up the basics.

I’m not wrong on my points at all. They are backed up by publicly available data.

City News!! I wouldn’t read that old rag if I was paid to!!

Well bj I am glad you have dealt with the good people at ACT Housing. This will give you an idea of the complexities around providing housing to the various groups and their diverse needs. There are also the charity and community groups and agencies who work closely with the government to assist those in public housing and those seeking it. It seems there is also a mixed bag of those seeking assistance. Some are good and some just never stop whingeing despite the length these agencies go to in providing assistance. I prefer to source statistics from reliable sources rather than newspapers. The 2021 Australian Institute of Health & Welfare Housing Assistance report lists Canberra coming second to inner Melbourne in providing the highest number of public housing dwellings in Australia. However, we do have the lowest number of group houses in the country. As I said in my comments, governments can do more and there is always room for improvement. Governments are also dealing with a pandemic. There are many housing tenants unable to transition from group housing to make way for homeless tenants.

I’m sorry Minister, but it’s a “crock of……”, to argue that… “the ongoing renewal program (sale of old public housing and construction of new stock), would help decrease the number of older and therefore non-compliant properties”.
Offloading non-compliant housing on to private landlords or own occupiers passes your costs and liability onto others.

Public tenants have limited means and are the people least capable of moving to better quality accommodation (or being able to afford high heating or cooling costs). The Government should have gotten its own house in order, or at least known where it sits itself, before pushing these reforms onto the private landlords.

devils_advocate11:27 am 13 Nov 22

“The prospect of the Government not being able to comply with its own legislation is quite comical.“

Comical indeed we’re it not for the fact that the government will be in a better position to negotiate large scale jobs with volume discounts from contractors, while private rental providers will need to scramble to deal with the resulting capacity constraint.

Unsurprising there was zero analysis on the actual feasibility of this policy.

There’s probably been a reasonable lead-in period in terms of publicity, media stories etc. Landlords also know how cold Canberra gets in winter, it’s a smart investment to get this done quickly. That will reduce the build up of work nearer the implementation date.

It’s a really terrible idea to force some properties into doing this. If your investment property shares a roof area/space with another property (as some apartments and townhouses do), is your neighbour forced to upgrade their home too? And it is wrong (and discriminatory), to force some people to improve their homes to a certain level, but others in the community do not have to.

Also some people may want to rent out their house for just a short period of time (e.g. going away for 6 months and wanted to rent it for a short time), seems they will now be required to do home improvements (that they don’t want), or not be able to rent out their own house. People will be turned off renting out their home (and will leave it vacant), and that means even more renters miss out on having a roof over their head. But according to the ACT government – renters must have 5 star housing. In a few years, this will play out very badly when there are no rental properties and no employees want to move here (and I just read the other article here stating employees won’t take jobs in Canberra because there are already not enough rental properties). Despite what the usual silly suspects on here say, many people do in fact want to rent a place, and they don’t actually want to buy.

devils_advocate1:55 pm 13 Nov 22

I think airbnb is about to get a lot more popular…

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