18 April 2021

Time for ACT Housing to think family first

| Ian Bushnell
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Canberra mother Belinda Nunn with her five girls

Canberra mother Belinda Nunn (second from left) with her five girls. Photo: Supplied.

The plight of former Barnardo’s mother of the year and mum of seven Belinda Nunn brings into sharp focus the housing crisis facing many Canberrans, particularly families who may not fit easily into apartment living.

With a vacancy rate of just 0.7 per cent and only about 500 properties available to rent in the ACT, the competition for an apartment is intense enough, let alone a house, especially one with four bedrooms or more.

To receive notice at this time fills tenants with dread, and that’s the environment Ms Nunn has entered in the private rental market, and why she has gone to ACT Housing seeking a public housing property.

She is on the priority list, along with 19 others.

READ ALSO ACT housing crisis puts family of eight at risk of homelessness

This inability of the market to provide sufficient properties at an affordable rent has prompted calls from welfare groups for the ACT Government to step up and do even more than the regularly touted public housing renewal program to fill the gap.

The government says the need for large houses represents only about 8 per cent of total demand, and that there will be 250 such properties built under the 10-year Housing Strategy released in 2018.

But the main focus in the renewal program is on smaller one and two-bedroom apartments, mostly multi-storey dwellings.

The point Ms Nunn raises is that some of ACT Housing’s larger houses are occupied by single tenants or couples whose children have grown up and moved on.

For those who may have raised children in a home and lived in the same neighbourhood for years, building social connections and developing a sense of place, the thought of moving could be difficult, even traumatic, especially if they are getting on in years.

But in the current circumstances, ACT Housing needs to make the most of its resources and manage its tenants more effectively.

ACT Housing development in Rowley Street

A recently completed ACT Housing development in Rowley Street, Dickson.

It does not make sense for someone to be locking up a four to six-bedroom house when there are families in real need.

There should be mechanisms in place in place to review the occupancy of properties so that when circumstances change, tenants can be matched with appropriately sized homes.

Although ACT Housing is assisting tenants to move out of their oversized homes into new housing, such as a new development in Dickson, unofficially, they can be there for life.

It is an invidious position for the government with no easy choices, and plenty of options for bad looks.

And it is no simple matter of reallocating homes because there needs to be a dwelling for people to go to, and with nearly 3,000 on the waiting list and finite resources, that may just not be possible.

But without a massive boost to supply and welfare organisations calculating that the government’s renewal program will still fall short of what is needed, ACT Housing will need to reassess its management policies and make some tough decisions.

It will need to be more proactive about property availability and appropriateness, and inject more agility and flexibility into the program, so families in need can be properly prioritised.

For Ms Nunn, it may be a case of breaking up the family and spreading the older ones around to avoid homelessness, but even then, the chances of securing shelter are not good.

For some families, this will not be an option, and sleeping in the car during a Canberra winter may be their only prospect.

In possibly Australia’s most affluent city, that it has come to this should be our shame.

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The solution to this is simple.

Instead of building more public housing, the government should divest itself of almost all of it.

The vast majority of people in public housing could operate in the private rental market but for price. So the government should provide these people with rental “vouchers” that would be used to supplement their own finances.

That way, the market will ensure that housing stock is more efficiently allocated because there would be a clear price signal to tenants.

For every larger older inner suburban house they sell they could build at least two more in the outer suburbs. Why not do that?

They are. But still people complain.

Fiona Marshall7:37 am 20 Apr 21

I’ve been following this story and I empathise with the issues but let me play devil’s advocate for a moment.

One suggestion in this article is for ACT housing to move people out of their long term home to smaller more appropriate sized housing. It’s not that simple. Why? Because the public & media will then get up ACT housing for kicking someone out of there home. I’ve worked in government where we had rental properties and we couldn’t even kick out people who were months behind on their rent and had made significant damage to it. Every time we attempted to they got the media involved and we got flack for doing it.

So while I understand, empathise and agree… think about the other side of it too.

So so true. With social media such as this type of site and Facebook etc so many political decisions these days are about optics and keeping at bay bad press.

In years gone by sure that kind of thing happened but not to the same scale as not everyone’s story got told by the media available at the time.

Mohammad Jaleel Ahmed7:22 am 20 Apr 21

It’s good someone bought this topic today and there may have been few in the past. At first, I didn’t know where to voice my concern’s or probably set a scheduled meeting with a minister for my issues, I am a single earner for my family with a sick wife who is epileptic for the whole life that was diagnosed with a scare in the brain and with a little toddler to take care off. I find it difficult to rent a property and I and not sure of How my application will be with the whole lot in hand already. The private rental properties in Canberra are skyrocketing with rental prices and day by day ACT seems to be provisioning less to hard earners and struggling to live a decent life.
Our current state governement needs to look into this issues ASAP .

“It does not make sense for someone to be locking up a four to six-bedroom house”

How many four or six bedroom government houses are there? I would imagine very few. Most are likely three bedroom.

20 years of Labor. For all those who are suffering and voted for them again…enjoy!

Yeah! Like the Liberals would do any better. I’m about 100% confident they would make things worse.

And it’s not like this is a recommendation for Labor and the Greens. Their performance is no better than fair to middling. But its a sad fact that the Liberals fail to offer a viable alternative government.

What about those families who were moved into a three bedroom house when they had only two children, went on to have a total of six children, but remained in the cramped three bedroom house? Will they be required to relinquish their family home when all or most of their children have left? Seems to me there should be a little flexibility on this issue.

Vivienne Shield3:41 pm 19 Apr 21

How dare you suggest that a single/couple who have lived in a 4 bedroom house for 50 years move out. They may have regular family visiting as I do on the Gold Coast. You want to break up families and scatter them to the four winds? Come up with a better solution.

No one is suggesting that people move out of their own house. They are suggesting that single/couples living in public housing should move out of properties larger than they require. These are the people who through their own incompetence and/or life choices are unable to support themselves like an adult. They have no ownership of the property whatsoever. Of course they should be grateful of any accommodation offered to them at below market rates. Beggars can’t be choosers! If they want to be able to choose their location and size of property, then work for it and pay for it like the rest of us adults have to!

If they are renting an ACT government property and no longer have a need for a property that big then yes they should be moved on to something smaller like a 2 bedroom place so there is a spare bed.

But remaining in a 4 beddie so that visitors have a place to stay is not what government housing is all about.

Ps my mum was in this same situation. Had a 4 beddie which she raised her kids in, but moved into a 2 bedroom at her insistence when that become too big to properly keep.

ChrisinTurner1:13 pm 19 Apr 21

Is that development in Dickson the one they have to demolish?

Mike of Canberra12:18 pm 19 Apr 21

This is at least the fourth article on this issue this year. What is the point of writing article after article on the parlous state of ACT public housing? When will we see decisive action to drive needed changes including more rigorous tenancy management and the elimination of corrupt and dishonest practices in public housing? There are plenty of organisations with the power and influence to drive such change, ranging from ACTCOSS and other community groups to the ACT Liberal opposition. We need and expect action not words.

Unbelievable that a single person can stay in a family home indefinitely. Shame on you ACT Housing

ChrisinTurner1:16 pm 19 Apr 21

You should not need to be desperate to stay in public housing.

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