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The Victorian government has built only 57 of the 1,000 new public housing units it pledged by 2022, amid a push to bind the state to a housing target.
As the pandemic puts the spotlight on the state’s ailing public housing system, the Greens will this week call for a legislated benchmark to guarantee a much-needed boost to housing stock.
It comes as analysis obtained by Guardian Australia suggests there are nearly 30,000 children among the 100,000 people on the state’s ballooning housing waiting list.
The waiting list has blown out every quarter since a new registry was created in 2016, yet the state government’s signature 1,000 homes commitment is yet to gather steam.
Though the government insists the pledge is on track, figures provided to a parliamentary committee show only 57 of the homes Labor promised to build by late 2022 have been finished.
Halfway into Daniel Andrews’s second term, a further 87 homes are under construction and 122 are said to be “about to start construction”.
Housing advocates warned in 2018 that the $209m promise – which focuses on the most needy applicants – was already insufficient given Victoria spends less per capita on social housing than any other jurisdiction.
Since then, the public housing waiting list has only gotten longer.
In the three months to June 2020, an extra 2,161 Victorians were added to rolls, according to estimates by researcher Dr Duncan Rouch.
That takes the total number of people waiting for a home to 99,264, includes 29,618 children.
The Greens’ housing spokesman, Sam Hibbins, blamed the situation on decades of “neglect by successive state governments”.
“The state government hasn’t even built 10% of the public homes it said it would during this term, which means the waiting list will continues to blow out,” he said.
“The only way we can solve homelessness is to build more homes, it’s really that simple.”
Under a bill the Greens will introduce to parliament this week, the government would be bound to a public housing target, which the party says would work similar to a renewable energy target.
It would require the government to construct or purchase an additional 100,000 new public homes by 2030, or 10,000 a year.
The benchmark is more ambitious than a proposal from the state’s peak homelessness body, which in May called for the construction of 6,000 units a year.
According to government figures, the average waiting time for a “priority access” housing applicant is currently 11.6 months. This fast-tracked list includes people who are homeless, escaping family violence or living with a disability.
The Department of Health and Human Services has previously partly blamed the wait figure on the “lack of growth in social housing”.
Until very recently, Michael Miletic, 63, was among those on the priority list.
The Geelong man had been staying in cheap accommodation during the pandemic. When that came to an end, he was homeless for a month. It was not a new experience.
“I’ve been house surfing for years,” Miletic said. “I’ve never had a place to call my own.”
While waiting on the public housing list, Miletic slept in his car and would shower at the Geelong Olympic pool.
Luckily, he said, his vehicle had a canopy on the back that fits a bed. “I thought, ‘At least I’m not doing it hard on the streets,’” he said.
After eight months on the waiting list, Miletic was given a home this month. He knows his wait was shorter than most, and credits the outcome to the assistance he received from the Housing for the Aged Action Group.
Across Victoria, there has been a 125% increase in priority applications like Miletic’s since September 2016, according to Rouch’s research.
Geelong is the worst-hit regional area, while demand in metropolitan Melbourne was highest in a housing region described as “Western Melbourne”.
That area includes the suburbs in and around the nine high-rise towers in Flemington and North Melbourne that were controversially locked down in July at the start of Melbourne’s second wave.
Since September 2016, demand has increased by 82% in that region, while applications also surged in north-eastern Melbourne, including Preston (200% increase), the Dandenong area (166%) and the Hume and Moreland area, including Broadmeadows (149%).
Since the tower lockdown, the government has allocated $30m to voluntarily relocate families living in Melbourne’s public housing high-rises.
And in July, it also committed to build 168 new social housing units as part of a Covid stimulus package.
However, controversially, it is also selling off eight public housing estates to developers as part of a “renewal” project that will lead a 10% increase in social housing, which also includes affordable homes leased by non-profits.
With the state budget due before the end of the year, Hibbins said forthcoming stimulus should include a massive housing boost.
“There hasn’t been the will from governments in the past, but the Covid crisis has now presented us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build back a better future, and access to secure housing for everyone should be the first step,” he said.
A state government spokeswoman said Labor was responsible for record investment to support those sleeping rough, or at risk of homelessness, and family violence survivors who need a home.
She said the 1,000 homes program “remains on track to be completed by 2022”.
Contracts have been signed with builders for nearly all of the 1,000 homes.
“We’ve also been invested almost $500m to build, repair and upgrade over 23,000 community and public housing homes across the state,” the spokeswoman said.
Source: The Guardian
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