Media release: Canberra’s Housing and Homelessness Crisis Worsens

25 January 2022

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has called on the ACT Government to urgently review the implementation of its housing strategy and improve community oversight following today’s release of a national report that shows major failings in the ACT Government’s policy to address the Territory’s housing crisis.

The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services (RoGS) released today highlighted that:

  • The ACT continues to have the highest rate of rental stress for lower-income private renters of any Australian jurisdiction (73% compared with 50% nationally)
  • The number of public housing dwellings in 2021 is below the number in 2012 (10,950) and the peak in 2018 (11,181)
  • There are 164 fewer households in social housing in the ACT in 2021 compared to 2020, and this number is lower than a decade ago in 2012 (11,328) and its peak at 11,435 households in 2017
  • More than 30% of clients who approached homelessness services with a need for accommodation did not have their needs met.

ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said: “The ACT Housing Strategy has been in place for four years, yet we see growing numbers of Canberrans experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

“This reflects a lack of action by the ACT Government and Australian Government to ease housing stress and provide additional social housing.

“Despite an urgent need for social housing – the ACT had a shortfall of more than 3,000 social dwellings and more than 2,000 Canberrans experiencing homelessness last year – the number of social houses available in the ACT is declining. The RoGS data tells us that there are fewer social housing dwellings today than there were in 2018, when the ACT Housing Strategy was launched. Meanwhile, almost 3,000 households languish on the ACT’s social housing waiting list.

“ACTCOSS welcomed investments in housing announced in the most recent ACT Budget, including $80 million for maintenance of public housing, $19 million for the Growing and Renewing Public Housing Program and $8.6 million for specialist homelessness services, but the failure to deliver meaningful outcomes for Canberrans is frustrating.

“The ACT is currently the most expensive capital city in which to rent a house or unit. The ACT has the highest rate of rental stress among lower-income private rental households, with 73% of lower-income private tenants paying more than 30% of income on housing.

“Increasingly, people in full-time work are unable to afford rental rates. Recent research by the Everybody’s Home campaign for Homelessness Week 2021 found that essential community workers would need to spend between one-third to two-thirds of their weekly wages to rent an apartment in most Canberra suburbs, forcing them into rental stress,” Dr Campbell said.

“Applications for public housing in the ACT have increased dramatically over the last four years. As at 30 June 2021, there were 1,920 new greatest needs applicants, an increase of 117% from 2017. The average wait time for standard social housing is now more than 4.2 years, or 1,541 days. This is not surprising as the share of social housing in the ACT has declined from 7.6% in 2014 to 6.7% in 2020.

“Further, for those who can access public housing, the conditions of the dwellings are worsening. In 2021, more than a quarter (26.6%) of public housing households had less than four working facilities and more than two major structural problems. Tenants with disabilities found that public housing amenities did not meet their needs 28.9% of the time.

“The impacts of homelessness and housing stress consistently disproportionately impact marginalised and disadvantaged people. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples, the LGBTIQA+ community, people with disabilities, young people and older women are all at an increased risk of housing insecurity and homelessness.

“ACTCOSS makes no apology for continuing to hold all political parties to account on the issue of affordable housing for people on low incomes. This year’s RoGS highlights that the ACT Government’s current housing policies are failing to address the ongoing crisis.

“We also call on the Australian Government to raise the rate of income support to enable people to keep a roof over their heads while looking for employment, and to invest in housing as a key part of Australia’s recovery from the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.

“Investment in social housing not only makes sense for our community’s wellbeing, but it also makes economic sense. KPMG has shown that for every $1 million of public investment in social housing, GDP is boosted by $1.3 million,” said Dr Campbell.

ACTCOSS has been calling on the ACT Government to urgently implement a range of policies to fix the housing and homelessness crisis including:

  • The full, transparent and timely delivery of the ACT Housing Strategy and the delivery of all commitments in the Parliamentary and Governing Agreement which includes 400 additional public houses and 600 affordable rental dwellings
  • Empowering Community Housing Providers (CHPs) to address the shortfall of affordable homes through access to affordable land, rezoning to allow development by CHPs and rates exemptions
  • Enacting all economic, social and cultural rights in the ACT Human Rights Act 2004 including a Right to Housing.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations. Follow us @ACTCOSS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For more information or comment, please contact

Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617.

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