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.”
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.
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.