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Ensure everyone has an affordable home

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Escalating house prices and rents are deeply affecting struggling Victorians. Rental stress in Victoria has jumped by 25 per cent in just two years. Just 5.7 per cent of private rental properties are affordable for people on income support, and Victoria is experiencing rising levels of homelessness, as evidenced by increasing numbers of ‘rough sleepers’ and reports of rising demand for emergency relief and crisis accommodation.

Rising housing costs are also putting pressure on household budgets, with people cutting back on essentials like food and energy, and reducing children’s sport and educational opportunities.

Housing costs affect all Victorians – young and old, women and men, families and individuals – but they are most acutely felt by people with disability, carers, Aboriginal people, migrants, refugees, women and children escaping family violence, and people leaving institutions, such as out-of-home care, the justice system or health facilities.

A secure, affordable home forms the foundation of a person’s life. Everything else – good health, a decent education and a steady job – is impossible without it. Providing secure, affordable housing is the Victorian Government’s most effective intervention against poverty. It ensures people can build meaningful, productive lives and live with dignity.

Accelerate social housing growth

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Develop a plan to deliver 30,000 new social housing properties over the next 10 years.


Social housing is an essential component of a well-functioning society, safeguarding people’s basic right to a home. Many people cannot access the private rental market due to high costs, an inability to compete against other prospective tenants, discrimination and a lack of accessible or appropriate housing. For many Victorians, social housing is all that stands between them and homelessness.

Demand for social housing is increasing. About 30,000 additional public and community housing properties are needed by 2031 just to keep pace with population growth. More than 50,000 additional homes are needed for those eligible for priority access. Recognising this, Infrastructure Victoria has listed affordable housing growth among its top three priorities, with a call for 30,000 additional dwellings to be built in the coming decade.

The Victorian Government has begun to respond to this challenge. The Homes for Victorians package, which is forecast to generate thousands of new homes in coming years, includes a public housing redevelopment program, funding for new social housing properties, a social housing growth fund, and the provision of loans and guarantees for community housing.

The next step is to accelerate the social housing growth trajectory. Growth has been minimal for many years, other than a short-term boost from the Australian Government’s Nation Building package following the global financial crisis. VCOSS believes a higher social housing growth trajectory must be maintained continuously if Victoria’s social housing system is expected to cope with future demand.

Embed a ‘housing first’ approach to rough sleeping

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Embed a ‘housing first’ approach to homelessness that prioritises permanent housing as soon as possible, to tackle rough sleeping.


Melbourne has seen a dramatic rise in rough sleeping on city streets. The City of Melbourne estimates the rough sleeping population has increased by more than 70 per cent in two years. However, rough sleeping is only the tip of the homelessness iceberg. VCOSS members also report rising instances of couch surfing, people sleeping in cars and living in inadequate accommodation.

This problem is exacerbated by the difficult operating environment confronting Victoria’s specialist homelessness services. These organisations have insufficient resources to cope with rising demand, and their effectiveness is further reduced by government red tape and ongoing funding uncertainty. For example, homeless organisations are often funded for time-limited ‘support periods’ of only a few weeks. This undermines their ability to support people, such as rough sleepers, over longer periods. Organisations also have to meet arbitrary targets for the number of people they assist, encouraging them to deliver short-term responses, without the resources to assist people until they can be securely and permanently housed.

The Victorian Government is currently developing a long-term strategy to tackle rough sleeping. Central to this strategy must be the adoption of a ‘housing first’ model of support. ‘Housing first’ means providing permanent housing as a starting point rather than an end goal. This necessitates ensuring sufficient housing is available in the first instance. Multi-dimensional and flexible support services can then be ‘wrapped around’ a person, without coercion. A number of successful trials and pilot programs have been conducted in Melbourne using ‘housing first’ principles, including Journey to Social Inclusion and Melbourne Street to Home.

A permanent supportive housing model, based on ‘housing first’ principles, could bring together multidisciplinary teams of homelessness and health workers in a flexible, ‘step-up, step-down’ support approach that could vary based on an individual’s needs. This could include assertive outreach and engagement that provides pathways to establishing and sustaining permanent housing, combined with assessment, care planning and integrated service provision.

Journey to Social Inclusion (J2SI)

This program takes a relationship-based approach to addressing entrenched homelessness, providing long-term support. It works on the premise that if people can sustain their housing and manage their complex health issues, this provides a solid foundation to the next steps – building skills, becoming a part of the community and contributing to society.

The J2SI pilot supported 40 people over three years. A year after the program ended, 75 per cent of participants remained in stable housing and 80 per cent used health services less often.

Introduce minimum health, safety and energy efficiency rental standards

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Amend the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 to create the power to make regulations for minimum health, safety and energy efficiency standards in rental housing.


The Victorian Government can allow the growing number of renters to experience greater health and comfort and lower living costs by introducing minimum health, safety and energy efficiency standards for private rental housing.

More Victorians are renting their homes and for longer. Many will become life-long renters. More families and older people are renting.

Minimum standards are the only way to improve the quality of rental housing, given the different incentives and consequences landlords and tenants face. The Victorian Government can ease any potential impacts on rental prices by staging the introduction of standards over time, helping to limit costs for landlords.

Low-income earners often have no option but to rent poor-quality housing as a result of severe affordable rental shortages and shrinking social housing supply. Poor quality rental housing affects people’s health and safety, including families raising children and older people living in these homes. Draughty, poorly insulated homes are a major cause of high energy bills.

Minimum health, safety and energy efficiency standards should focus on the most critical features of housing to ensure quality and ‘value for money’ improvements. We envisage they would target the very worst rental properties. The standards could include basic features such as a working toilet, working cooking facilities, locks on external doors, proper airflow, draught-proofing, ceiling insulation and efficient heating.

Invest in education-first youth foyers

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Fund more education-first youth foyers in additional regions of high disadvantage.


The Victorian Government can help young people facing disadvantage complete their education and find stable housing and employment by investing in more education-first youth foyers.

The association between youth homelessness, failure to complete year 12 or equivalent and poor employment outcomes is well established. On any given night, there are about 4000 homeless young people in Victoria and more than half of these are disengaged from education and employment.

The number of years people spend in school is a significant predictor of future employment and earnings. Young people with low educational attainment are more likely to be unemployed, less likely to be in full-time work and more likely to experience lower wages.

Young people who leave school before year 12 face many potential hardships. Early school leavers, particularly those without post-school qualifications, are at greater risk of low income, unemployment and welfare dependency.

Education-first youth foyers break the cycle of homelessness by providing young people with safe, secure and affordable accommodation on a TAFE campus for two years while they study for a career. Young people live in customised, studio-style accommodation and share communal areas. There are trained staff on-site around the clock. Support services include career guidance, employment assistance, mentoring, mental and physical health support, life skills development and assistance with involvement in volunteer and community activities.

Some foyers have already been established at TAFE colleges in Southbank, Glen Waverley, Richmond, Broadmeadows and Shepparton. A five-year evaluation will be completed by 2019, but they are already showing substantial improvements for young people in rates of education completion, exits to stable and secure housing, and employment.

Harriet and the Kangan Youth Foyer

Harriet experienced family violence and was forced to leave her home. She was offered a place at the Kangan Youth Foyer in Broadmeadows ($). Through the assistance of the youth foyer, Harriet has completed an advanced diploma in justice and is now studying to become an immigration lawyer. She is volunteering with a community group addressing family violence in the local African community, and is working part-time.

The Kangan Youth Foyer opened in 2014 and houses 40 young students at risk of homelessness for up to two years while they study. The youth foyer is led by Launch Housing and the Brotherhood of St Laurence and provides 24-hour on-site staff. It also partners with other agencies to deliver a range of services to young people including education and training, employment assistance, life skills development, mental and physical health support, drug and alcohol support, mentoring and social participation.


Further strategies


Expand and integrate homelessness prevention services

The only way to eliminate homelessness in the long term is to stop people becoming homeless in the first place. This means having services in place to help people as soon as their housing comes under threat, and help people leaving prisons, mental health facilities and residential care find a home.

Victorian Government programs to help people avoid homelessness are haphazard, poorly funded and often not integrated. Homelessness prevention services should ‘wrap around’ people at risk of homelessness, and include tailored assistance, legal services and financial support. For example, an integrated service could provide legal advice while negotiating with landlords to resolve tenancy problems (including by repairing damage or addressing rent arrears), working with people to improve living skills to curb behaviour that may lead to eviction, and providing financial strategies to tenants struggling to pay their rent.


Mandate universal housing standards

In the next 20 years, the number of Victorians aged over 65 is expected to nearly double, to more than 1.6 million. Nearly one in five Victorians has a disability. However, our homes have not been built to meet the needs of Victorians as they age and their abilities change. Very simple changes to the building code, such as requiring adequate door widths, a clear access path to the front door and a stepless shower recess, can make homes more easily adaptable to accommodate people’s changing abilities. Adapting a home can be 22 times cheaper with these basic features in place.

The Victorian Government completed a Regulatory Impact Statement in 2009 recommending a Victorian-specific variation to the Building Code to incorporate these features. The Government should proceed with this change to ensure new homes are suitable for every Victorian to ‘age in place’ and find accessible housing.


Adopt inclusionary zoning

Victoria has more than 142,000 low-income households in rental stress, and there are more than 40,000 applications for social housing under the Victorian Housing Register. Victoria desperately needs new sources of social housing.

Inclusionary zoning means using the planning system to require a mandatory percentage of homes in multi-dwelling developments to be reserved for social housing. In 2016, private developers began construction of about 30,000 apartments (Table 34). If only a few per cent of these were reserved for social housing, thousands of homes could be supplied for Victoria’s most vulnerable people.

The Victorian Government has committed to an inclusionary zoning trial on government land, aiming to supply about 100 social housing properties. The Victorian Parliament recently passed legislation allowing voluntary affordable housing development to be negotiated by local governments.

However, this does not mandate inclusionary zoning. The Victorian Government should move quickly to establish inclusionary zoning in Victoria’s planning laws to accelerate the growth of social housing.


Replace stamp duties with a comprehensive land tax

Stamp duties on homes are among Australia’s most inefficient taxes, estimated to cost the economy about 35 cents for every dollar raised. They are also unfair, being incurred by younger people with lower incomes when they first buy a home, and are paid more frequently by people who have to move more often. Stamp duties also encourage property speculation, as land-banking incurs no costs. They are also a volatile source of revenue, rising and falling with the property market, leading to rapid changes in Victorian Government revenue. If our overheated property market suddenly cools, there will be negative consequences for the Victorian Budget and pressure to cut essential public and community services.

To move to a fairer, more efficient and stable property tax system, the Victorian Government should, over time, replace stamp duties with a broad-based land tax. This should be accompanied by appropriate concessions, exemptions and deferrals, particularly for low-income households that may be asset-rich, but income-poor.

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