The Victorian social housing system is under severe stress, and has been deteriorating for decades. Declining government investment, increased targeting, deinstitutionalisation, strong population growth and a general housing affordability crisis have produced the perfect storm of failings in an outdated system unable to meet growing demand.
Social housing provides secure and affordable housing not available in the private market. Housing people on low incomes and those with complex needs is neither inexpensive nor easy. To achieve reform in the face of overwhelming demand and limited resources will be challenging. Stagnant social housing growth that fails to match population increases means more housing stress and more homelessness. Large-scale public housing stock transfers to community housing organisations, without funding and regulatory reform, will add to the system’s shortcomings. In essence, shifting the deck chairs will not save the Titanic, but effective planning based on a well-informed and clearly articulated future vision will, at the very least, help to steer a safe course. The status quo is a recipe for continued failure.
The social housing sector is an important part of a national and statewide housing system, which includes government funding, tax and regulatory elements.
Providing enough high quality social housing is not only good social policy, it is also good economic policy. For example, the Federal Government’s Social Housing Initiative provided 14,000 full time jobs across Australia, and generated an additional 30 cents of economic activity for every dollar spent. Building social housing benefits the whole community, not only those housed.
Historically, the public and community housing sectors have played different roles within social housing, each with their own strengths. To improve the lives and living conditions of all tenants, it is necessary to build on these respective strengths, including private sector funded growth in community housing.
A new vision for social housing, which incorporates growth and sustainability, can deliver:
- greater satisfaction for tenants;
- affordable long term housing that is financially sustainable;
- locally responsive housing solutions for a diversity of low income tenants; and
- improved opportunities for tenants via community partnerships.
Limited adoption of the recommendations or peripheral tinkering will not solve the problems or advance the system.
It is essential that the Government and community sector work together to deliver affordable high quality social housing for Victorians on low incomes.
To achieve this goal, we propose a six-point plan for Making Social Housing Work:
1. An Affordable Housing Strategy: Develop an Affordable Housing Strategy to expand the supply, security and quality of low-cost social and private housing in Victoria. This whole of Government strategy should incorporate the following recommendations in relation to the social housing sector.
2. A 20-year strategy to grow and redevelop social housing: This strategy sets the foundations for an expansion in the supply of social housing, including reforms in public housing to improve its financial sustainability. The strategy seeks to reach a target of 5% of the State’s housing stock as proposed by the 2010 Victorian Parliamentary Family and Community Development Committee public housing inquiry. The strategy requires:
a. A new Social Housing Supply Program with capital investment from the Victorian Government of $200 million per year (indexed) over 20 years. This investment would enable a minimum growth of 800 homes each year. We recognise this is a significant amount of public resources, but this investment would result in cost savings elsewhere in government expenditure, and demonstrates the scale of investment required to make a real impact.
b. Stock transfers to community housing (comprising both title and management transfers) to better use property and land and to achieve the Council, of Australian Governments (COAG) commitment for community housing to manage 35% of social housing.
c. An improved National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) for greater transparency and more investment in social housing by Commonwealth, augmenting the State Government’s funds.
d. Innovative financing options: The Victorian Government to work with the private sector and COAG to develop innovative finance options for social housing. This could include bonds and guarantees, revolving loans and shared equity schemes similar to those operating in South Australia and Western Australia.
e. Develop best practice asset management strategies: including systems for managing inventory and assessing property conditions plus improved skills and competency in maintenance roles.
This paper represents the collective views of the State’s peak organisations for housing, homelessness and domestic violence:
- Community Housing Federation of Victoria (CHFV)
- Victorian Council of Social Services (VCOSS)
- Council to Homeless Persons (CHP)
- Victorian Public Tenants Association (VPTA)
- Tenants Union of Victoria (TUV)
- Domestic Violence Victoria (DV Vic)
- Justice Connect Homeless Law