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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Social housing second lowest budget priority

Social housing and homelessness services were a key election platform for the ACT Greens, but after a parliamentary agreement promise and roadmap to increase supply and services, the over-whelmed sector has received only 4% of the Budget.

The Government has allocated $225 million of its $6.3 billion budgetary spending on delivering its housing promises, making it the Government’s second lowest priority after tourism, sport, events and the arts.

Parliamentary agreement promises delivered

The ACT Government will deliver on its promise to expand the Early Morning Centre (EMC) to a seven day per week service that provides food, shelter, health and social services to people experiencing homelessness.

The Budget will continue to fund the three homelessness services operating in response to COVID: Winter Lodge for men, Mackillop House for women and the Axial Housing First program.

The Government will increase funding to OneLink, a service connecting clients to their necessary services.

The peak body advocating for the interests of people living in and looking for affordable and social housing, ACT Shelter, will receive additional funding as per the parliamentary agreement between ACT Labor and the Greens.

The Budget has allocated funding for two positions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff within the Community Services Directorate (CSD) to set up a small team dedicated to the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled housing organisation.

Productivity Commission report on government services

Data for the ACT revealed: overcrowding in public housing dwellings; a significant increase in the turnaround time for public housing occupancy, including an average 81-day wait for a vacant property; and growing numbers of people on the public housing waiting list, including the addition of nearly 200 people assessed as being in the greatest need.

These trends have been compounded by an overall reduction in public housing dwellings since 2011.

Between 30 June 2011 and 30 June 2020, the ACT saw an 18% increase in population, but the number of public housing dwellings decreased from 11,063 to 10,985 in the same period. 

Community and social housing sector budget response

The housing and community sector have called for the ACT Government to match its “significant investments” in infrastructure projects, such as light rail and renewable energy, with similar investments in social housing.

A letter, signed by the Community Housing Industry Association ACT (CHIA), ACT Shelter and the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) highlighting the “concerning trends” in last month’s Productivity Commission report has been sent to the Government.

CHIA chairperson Andrew Hannan said the ACT had the lowest rate of community housing as a proportion of all social housing of any state or territory.

“Our community housing provider member organisations call for innovative policies, matched by serious investment, to unlock their ability to build more homes for Canberrans on low incomes,” Mr Hannan said.

“Our members have an important role to play in investing alongside the ACT Government to help deliver on the parliamentary agreement commitments to grow the social and affordable rental supply.”

ACT Shelter CEO Travis Gilbert said they welcomed their $2.6 million for the ACT’s homelessness services, however there had been an overall increase in demand for homelessness services between the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 reporting years.

“There is a 22% increase in unmet need among clients presenting to homelessness services for accommodation support.”

ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said the Productivity Commission data confirmed information that community services hear regularly.

“This includes reports of women and children escaping domestic violence unable to secure appropriate accommodation, increasing levels of dissatisfaction with public housing, and older Canberrans facing homelessness,” Dr Campbell said.

“While we welcome the commitments outlined in the parliamentary agreement, vulnerable Canberrans in housing stress do not have the luxury of time.

“The ACT is facing an ongoing housing crisis.

“We are calling on the ACT Government to match its significant investments in infrastructure projects, such as light rail and renewable energy, with similar investments in social housing.”

For more stories:

Unexpected job growth sees ACT maintain Australia’s lowest unemployment rate

Canberra Liberals suggest solutions for ACT housing crisis

‘Self-determination in action’: ACT government backs Indigenous solutions

NDIS funds for sexual expression can ‘improve quality of life’

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