Evidence of Victoria’s affordable housing crisis continues mount. In Melbourne alone, there are over 50,000 households living in unaffordable rental housing with incomes in the bottom 20 per cent of the population. The public housing waiting list remains at over 34,000 people. Home ownership rates are falling, especially among younger age groups.
Having a safe, secure and affordable home is the foundation of a person’s ability to live with dignity. A lack of affordable housing is identified as a priority issue across the spectrum of VCOSS members, as addressing any other complex needs of a person is extremely difficult if they do not have a safe and affordable home.
The importance of social and affordable housing was outlined by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and national housing peak bodies who released the Affordable Housing Reform Agenda, which calls on all governments to work together to address the problem, and follows the release of Making Social Housing Work last year, produced by VCOSS and 6 other Victorian housing peak bodies.
In Building a Victoria without Poverty, the VCOSS State Budget Submission 2015-16, we have identified four priorities to improve the affordability and liveability of homes for Victorians experiencing disadvantage.
Develop a whole-government housing strategy
One of the most important barriers to improving housing affordability is government policies do not ‘join-up’ so that actions that could help solve the problem work together to create change. For example, social housing, rental laws, taxation policies and land use planning do not work together to improve housing affordability. By creating a process that brings these different areas of government and stakeholders together to formulate a strategy that attacks the problem together, far greater progress can be made than undertaking one-off initiatives in isolation.
Expand social housing with a dedicated growth fund
When it comes to social housing, Victoria has the lowest funding and availability of housing stock in Australia. The Victorian Government spends only $74 net recurrent expenditure on social housing per person in the population – less than half the national average, and the lowest of all Australian jurisdictions. Social housing makes up 3.4 per cent of all housing stock in Victoria, again the lowest of all Australian jurisdictions. The State Government can remedy this by providing a social housing growth fund to provide or leverage the capital required to build additional homes. We estimate that around $200 million is required each year to fund meaningful growth in social housing stock.
Create a common housing register
One of the systematic problems with the current system is that even when there is social housing available, it can be very difficult for people to find. Individuals need to separately register with public housing and numerous community housing organisations to have the best chance of finding an affordable home. A common housing register would mean that people could simply register once, and get the most appropriate offer for a home when it became available, regardless of who owned or managed it.
Make sure social housing properties have efficient heating and cooling
Social housing tenants often face significant disadvantage. They are among those most affected by extreme heat and cold, and require efficient heating and cooling to stay health, especially during extreme weather events such as heatwaves. Social housing tenants also include many experiencing poverty, and can least afford the high costs of inefficient heating and cooling. By expanding public housing retrofitting programs to include highly efficient reverse-cycle air-conditioning, we can keep people safe from extreme weather without unaffordable costs.