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Time to stop talking and commit to higher levels of social housing

By Rebecca Vassarotti - 1 March 2018 6
suburb canberra.

Less talk more action on housing affordability in Canberra.

There has been a lot of talk lately about how committed our Government is to housing affordability. But despite high profile summits, glossy consultation publications and empathic statements, we are still waiting for real and meaningful action that will address housing affordability.

Last week, we were subject to another example of a disconnect between stated intentions and action when the Government released its housing affordability targets for 2017/2018. These targets are a requirement under the legislation that set up the replacement agencies following the disbanding of the Land Development Agency, but something that has taken many months to materialize. After their release, you could be forgiven for thinking that some of the reticence may have been related to their weakness. It was somewhat of a shock, given the statements leading up to the release about the priority that has been given to housing affordability, to be told that of all land released, just 176 blocks of the more than 4000 sites in the ACT will be released for new public or community housing in 2017/2018.

Of equal concern is the revelation that the program that is delivering much-needed renewal of old and inappropriate large-scale public housing developments in our city centre has come at the cost of a diversity of households who can afford to live in our inner suburbs. Not only are we seeing less land release for public and community housing, it looks like it is being sent out to outer suburbs. While we have known for some time that we would see no public or social housing on Northbourne Avenue, we now know there is little relocation planned to other high amenity locations in the inner suburbs. It’s a real surprise to discover that public or community housing won’t be located in Red Hill, given residents have previously expressed a willingness to see public housing as part of redevelopment within the suburb.

Why should we care about where public and community housing is located?

While some people may not be too concerned about where social housing is across the city, its even placement is a key element to creating cohesive and connected communities. Here in Canberra, it has been a way for us to live our values of diversity, equality, and tolerance, while ensuring that we have not created enclaves where people only mix with people who are just like them. The social mix of our suburbs has seen our neighbourhoods, shops, schools and institutions develop in ways that work for everyone. Granted, it’s not always easy, but contrary to the claims of NIMBYism that is sometimes laid at the feet of Canberrans, we are remarkably good at working through our differences and creating communities where there is a place for everyone.

This latest announcement raises the question of whether or not it is deliberate that there is a misalignment between the ACT Government’s stated desire to shift us from our position as the capital city with the second highest rate of homelessness in Australia, and the policies it is pursuing regarding land supply, housing renewal and urban development. This is coupled with a growing unease that while we have been continuously reassured that we aren’t going back in relation to the number of public housing properties, when we look at publicly available numbers of replacement stock, they seem so much smaller than the numbers of properties that are being demolished.

I hope this is not the case. I hope that this is an issue of communication, presentation or that more information is to come about how we address this issue.

I think that a clear vision and a plausible plan which maps out the ways that we will address affordability across the housing continuum is well overdue. I think it is time we see clear evidence that housing affordability agendas are not just election promises but actually built into the actions of the government in relation to land use, planning and urban renewal. What do you think?

Rebecca Vassarotti is a board member of Community Housing Canberra, an affordable housing company and the Early Morning Centre, a service working with people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. She is also an active member of the ACT Greens.

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5 Responses to
Time to stop talking and commit to higher levels of social housing
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Lucy Baker 6:14 pm 03 Mar 18

If all the cheats and gamers were removed from ACT public housing a lot more needy people would be housed. I know the occupant of a $1.3 million dollar 3-bedroom guvvie in the inner north whose partner is living there undeclared. She is on welfare; he is on $140,000. Kids have long left home. So why hasn’t the tenant been moved to single accommodation?

    Spiral 7:11 am 04 Mar 18

    That’s not likely to happen, especially while the Government has to dance to the tune of the Greens.

    The Deb Foskey scandal made the Green’s view on this issue very clear.

    Capital Retro 8:14 am 04 Mar 18

    There are a few new community housing developments in Macquarie and if the type and value of the motor vehicles being housed there are an indication of the wealth of the “tenants” then the system used to select these subsidised “battlers” is either corrupt or dysfunctional.

Mike of Canberra 5:32 pm 03 Mar 18

Rebecca, you talk in very high minded terms about how the loss of public housing in inner areas reflects a loss of diversity and, as part of this, a growing inability of people in those areas to relate to others who hold a different station in life.

You know (or should) and I know that it’s simply not that black and white. The plain fact of the matter is that, for the last 30-40 years, wherever public housing has been in Canberra, there also has been a range of problems ranging from crime and social dysfunction to sheer slumlike conditions. Why is it so? The immediate reason has related to the traditionally hands-off approach of our housing authorities to managing their tenants. This over-concentration on rights with little focus on responsibilities has helped instil a mindset amongst all too many public tenants (not the majority by any means) that they really don’t have to bother. If you’ve lived near public housing in this situation you’ve invariably suffered. How else do you think that formerly respectable public housing complexes such as Stuart Flats came to be labelled as “concentrations of disadvantage”? What’s needed here is for our public housing authorities to become more publicly accountable for managing the real impacts of their own policies and approaches on the areas that host public housing.

The second and deeper issue is that, while we have passive welfare, we will always have dysfunction and thus problems with public housing. Surely, therefore, governments responsible for public housing should be cooperating with the Federal Government in making a success of its welfare reform programs. But of course, that would be to abandon longstanding ideological shibboleths. Go figure!

chewy14 12:01 pm 03 Mar 18

instead of committing to more community housing, we should be committing to far less.
Community housing should be reserved for those who are truly unable (for whatever reason other than finances) to participate in the private housing market. This is a minority of people currently housed in taxpayer owned housing.

The remainder of people who need financial assistance should be provided that in the form of financial rest assistance and should be privately renting whatever form of housing suits them best.

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