10 February 2023

Government slammed over $600-million 'failure' to meet public housing commitments

| Lottie Twyford
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Mark Parton

Opposition spokesperson for housing Mark Parton says the government has failed to plan for the future of Canberra. Photo: Region.

Ahead of next week’s ACT Budget, the Opposition is calling out the government for what they claim is a $600-million-plus shortfall between public housing funding pledged in successive Territory Budgets and actual money spent.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said the government’s only spent around $80 million over five years despite big promises.

Ms Lee said the government had allocated $699 million across three Budget periods from 2015-2018, but by 2020, it had only appropriated $80.871 million of this promised money.

“The Labor-Greens government is very good at spin and announcements but continually fails to deliver,” Ms Lee argued.

“A $629 million shortfall in public housing delivery is significant and highlights one of the reasons Canberra is in a housing crisis.

“This government needs to be upfront with Canberrans and explain why these budget promises have not been met and what impact that has had on the public housing stock and vulnerable Canberrans who are being left behind.”

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According to the Canberra Liberals, in the 2015-16 Budget, the government promised a $133 million investment in public housing renewal over four years. The following year’s Budget promised $156 million for that year and $353 million over the next four years.

In the 2017-18 Budget, it announced a further $57.1 million investment in the program, claiming at the time that this took the program’s total to more than $600 million.

But the Opposition says the bulk of this funding has not been delivered in the promised timeframes.

It says the actual capital injection into public housing in the 2015-2016 financial year was $13.975 million, followed by $7.934 million in the following year, $5 million the next, $9.31 million in 2018-2019 and $44.652 million in 2019-20.

Earlier this year, the ACT Government was forced to defend its public housing spend for 2020-21 after the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services showed $6 million less was spent on public housing that year than in the previous one.

A spokesperson for the government said point-in-time data – such as the RoGS report – could not consider simple issues such as construction delays due to wet weather or supply chain issues resulting from a global pandemic that may delay milestone payments.

The government said at the time it would invest just over $80 million in public housing in 2021-22 alone, and the Growing and Renewing Public Housing program would have redeveloped 1000 properties and added 400 new ones to the Territory’s portfolio by 2024-25.

Minister for Housing Yvette Berry has repeatedly argued the government invests more per capita in public housing than any other state when public housing spending is added to social and community housing.

She has called on the Federal Government to support social and affordable housing by waiving the ACT’s historic housing debt and establishing a national housing strategy.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has also echoed these calls, indicating in May he imagined the Albanese Labor Government would progress these.

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But it’s just not enough for the Canberra Liberals and the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS).

“The RoGS data tells us that there are fewer social housing dwellings today than there were in 2018 when the ACT Housing Strategy was launched. Meanwhile, almost 3000 households languish on the ACT’s social housing waiting list,” ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said.

Opposition spokesperson for Housing Mark Parton argued the number of public housing dwellings hadn’t kept pace with Canberra’s population growth.

The latest RoGS data showed the number of public housing dwellings in the ACT reduced by 126 in 2020-21 alone.

Between 2011 and 2021, the Territory’s public housing dwellings declined by 1.8 per cent. During the same period, the ACT’s population grew by 21.8 per cent.

That means a 19.4 per cent decrease in the number of public dwellings per 1000 people.

“These figures show that the government, which has been in power for over 20 years, has failed to adequately plan for the future of Canberra when it comes to public housing,” Mr Parton said.

“[It] has failed to adequately stock the public housing market and, as a result, waiting lists are increasing at a rapid rate.”

The government’s approach to its public housing renewal program has also been criticised this year for how some tenants have been communicated with and for a general lack of consultation with the community sector.

Under the program, around 700 tenants are being moved from their current properties so these can either be sold to pay for new projects or redeveloped.

The Canberra Liberals say they are not against the premise of the relocation program but oppose its “heartless” implementation.

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Mike of Canberra9:33 am 28 Jul 22

Consistency is not the strong point of this tired old hubristic ACT Government and its uninspiring housing ministers, and neither is its ability to manage a tightly resourced and all-too-frequently abused public housing estate. It should as obvious as the nose on your face that the starting point for any re-vamp or supplementation of public housing should be a comprehensive independent audit of the public housing estate to investigate anomalies and provide options for dealing with inappropriate and/or under-priced allocations of public housing. Additionally, Housing ACT should re-introduce the practice of undertaking the twice-yearly property inspections it’s entitled to do on a targeted, prioritised basis – that ought to improve a lot of things, especially in relation to tenant behaviour and property maintenance. With such issues dealt with, Housing ACT may just find that it’s not quite as short of public housing as it believes. It may even find that it has a stronger cashflow that would enable a more genuinely and intelligently dispersed estate. Such a result should be accompanied by a top to bottom clean-out of Housing ACT, as this is possibly the only way to achieve genuine, productive change in the administration of public housing. But let’s face it, commitment to genuine solutions is not the strong point of either Housing ACT or its current political masters. As for the Liberal alternative, Mr Parton needs to show a willingness to embrace such meaningful change as a means of genuine and sustainable improvement in how public/social/supportive housing works in the ACT.

ChrisinTurner3:19 pm 27 Jul 22

Where are the 440 social housing apartments demolished as part of the ABC Flats dedevelopment?

This has always got me too. The pre sale of the ABC flats had lots of promises about new public housing being delivered, but the promises never came to fruition.

Remember when the Red Hill public housing destruction was going to replace the 144 public housing dwellings on the same site and also build additional private dwellings to boost density. Then lo and behold, the ACT government agrees that there will be zero public housing on the site and the new build will all be private housing that makes the property developers a motza at the expense of public housing tenants.

Oh Mark Parton! The clown who thinks he is so funny!! You’re a joke and an outsider in the Liberal Party! Party members don’t know what you stand for and you don’t know yourself.. I have seen you use people less fortunate than yourself and those in homelessness for political advantage. What a joke you are!! How sad for democracy and this proud city that I grew up in. The Canberra Liberals have been in opposition for 21 years in the ACT and don’t stand a chance of being elected in the future. The party is over!!!!!

Mike of Canberra2:42 pm 29 Jul 22

Estelle, whatever Parton’s failings as a potential housing minister, at least he is trying to make a difference in a flawed, even failing public housing environment, all brought to us by this tired old hubristic ACT Government. They are the ones who are failing public housing tenants and those other forgotten stakeholders, neighbouring private residents. Perhaps, therefore, you should direct your ire towards Berry, Vassorotti et al. But then, you’d have to open both eyes to do that wouldn’t you?

With my eyes wide open Mike of Canberra I am not oblivious to the fact that the Canberra Libs have been in opposition for 21 years. They also recently lost their only Federal Senate representative at the last election for the first time in 46 years. Sniping away in the background they have no policy vision for what they would do in the unlikely event they get elected. Leader Elizabeth Lee’s juvenile and boorish behaviour last sitting saw her booted out of the chamber and she wasn’t even there for her deputy’s valedectory speech. What an insult!!

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