8 April 2024

'Housing's being built' assures Minister as almost 40 new public units are opened across Canberra

| Claire Fenwicke
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public housing unit

Nine two-bedroom public housing units are ready for clients to move into in the West Belconnen area. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Almost 40 more public housing units have been opened in the past fortnight as the ACT Government continues towards its goal of 1400 new or renewed public homes by 2027.

Nine two-bedroom units are ready to move into in the West Belconnen area, and 30 one- to four-bedroom units have been constructed in Tuggeranong.

The uptick in delivering two-bedroom public housing options has been in response to demand.

“We build a lot more two-bedroom units because that’s the type of housing that [the highest number of] people who are on the waiting list … are requiring, so this is how we’re making sure we’re filling that need,” Housing Minister Yvette Berry said.

About 80 per cent of those on the waitlist can be housed in two-bedroom units.

These units can be used by older people or those with disabilities who have a carer who stays with them, smaller families and divorced adults to have a space for their children to come and stay for visits.

The ACT Council of Social Services has highlighted that even more needs to be done as housing unaffordability continues to plague Canberrans.

ACTCOSS CEO Dr Devin Bowles said the waiting list for standard priority public housing applicants is currently five years.

“Over recent years, affordable housing has become out of reach for an increasing number of Canberrans, including many young people starting their careers and in full-time work,” he said.

“Business as usual, with a reliance on the market to provide housing to all, has clearly failed.”

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Ms Berry said there was “no doubt” more needed to be done in this space but insisted the ACT Government was leaving no stone unturned.

“Housing’s being built, and there are homes on your street that are public housing, you just don’t know because people who live in public housing are just like the rest of us,” she said.

“We’re full speed ahead now … Public housing is one part of the program, but we know we need to do more across the spectrum.”

The newly announced units are part of the Growing and Renewing Public Housing Program, which has seen more than 475 homes built and 577 more under design or construction since its launch in July 2019.

Despite pressure on the building industry – such as companies going bust, workforce shortages and increasing material costs – Ms Berry is confident the program’s target will be met.

“So long as there are no delays with the program that are out of our control, we are on track to meet those targets,” she said.

The government has also been engaging with the community housing and private sectors to build stock, including through build-to-rent programs.

Recent reports have suggested that since 2012, the ACT Government has spent $900 million on public housing but has made $1.1 billion from selling public housing land.

Ms Berry dismissed such suggestions as “clickbait”.

“The suggestion that we’ve spent less than we’ve made is wrong, and you need to match the data to the years of the program,” she said.

“We’re not immune to the housing crisis, but the ACT Government is absolutely committed to building more public housing in the ACT and building better public housing as fast as we can.”

She said more than $1 billion would have been spent by 2027 to complete the program.

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There have also been criticisms that the government needs long-term plans to match population growth, particularly for areas such as West Belconnen.

Ms Berry said the government worked in five- to 10-year timeframes to avoid discussing hypotheticals or presenting ideas that were too “crystal ball-y.”

“I think you have to be careful about the strategy that you’re developing. We develop a five to 10-year pipeline because that’s real, people can see it and understand it and unpack it, and the government can then deliver on it.”

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Five years is optimistic. It’s well-known that to actually be housed you need to be on the Priority Needs category. You might be very lucky to be housed of High Needs but you will NEVER be housed off standard.

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