Rental affordability is Canberra’s real housing crisis

9 November 2021

ACTCOSS, CHIA ACT and ACT Shelter joint media release.

ACTCOSS has welcomed the focus placed today by the ACT Opposition on the shortage of affordable housing. This follows their call for a declaration of a housing crisis and an independent review into the impact of the ACT Government’s policies on rising house prices and rent levels.

ACTCOSS CEO, Dr Emma Campbell said: “ACTCOSS has long categorised the housing and homelessness situation in the ACT as a crisis. However, our focus is always on the lack of affordable rentals for people on low incomes in the Canberra community.

“Housing is the most significant expense for low-income households in the ACT and Canberra has the highest median rentals of any capital city. As a result, we have the nation’s highest rates of rental stress among lower income private rental households.

“The lack of affordable rentals is disproportionately impacting older women, women and children, the LGBTIQA+ community and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Territory. Of people accessing homeless services, 55% are female, 16% Indigenous and 48% families with children.

“The ACT has a shortfall of over 3,000 social housing, a waiting list of nearly a year for priority public housing and at least 1,600 people experiencing homelessness each day. There are virtually no private rental properties on the market in the ACT affordable for people on the Disability Support Pension, JobSeeker or Youth Allowance.

“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.

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 to address the shortfall of affordable homes through access to affordable land, rezoning to allow development by CHPs and rates exemptions.
  • All economic, social and cultural rights in the ACT Human Rights Act 2004 including a Right to Housing.

ACTCOSS has also called 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.

“ACTCOSS makes no apology for continuing to hold all political parties to account on the issue of affordable housing for people on low incomes.

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

ACTCOSS has also welcomed the ACT Government’s work to introduce minimum standards for rental properties, including the recently announced minimum standard for ceiling insulation.

Dr Campbell said: “Over one third of Canberrans rent their home and they are paying the highest rents of any Australian capital city. These households should be guaranteed that their home does not compromise their health or security or contribute to further financial stress through poor energy efficiency.

The Community Housing Industry Association, ACT Regional Committee (CHIA ACT), has called on the ACT Government to better leverage its community housing provider member organisations to meet the affordable rental supply challenge.

CHIA Chair, Andrew Hannan, said: “As we have outlined in our budget submissions and in discussions with Ministers and Department staff, our member organisations are the logical vehicles for the ACT Government to leverage to deliver their affordable rental target of 600 dwellings. There are great examples of initiatives in other jurisdictions, all premised on States/Territories providing a sufficient subsidy to make up for the gap between market and affordable rental income, through a variety of means.

“Indicative of the opportunity being lost is the fact that over $2B of concessional debt finance has been secured to date by CHIA members elsewhere in the past three years from the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC), as outlined in the recently released NHFIC Review, supporting delivery of thousands of new social and affordable rental dwellings.

“Not a cent to date has been secured for the ACT, and yet the ACT has arguably the greatest need.”

Travis Gilbert, CEO ACT Shelter said: “Recent research from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute has shown that the Territory could derive significant social and economic return on investment from both direct investment and from adopting an infrastructure investment approach to social and affordable housing supply.

“We now have local data that illustrates that not only are the financial and social costs borne by people experiencing homelessness enormous at a personal level, but also there are enormous costs to government in community services, health, justice, and loss of earnings potential. In some cases, these costs are in excess of $200,000 per Canberran, per year.

“Sustained increase in investment in housing infrastructure will change the lives of Canberrans experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness for the better. It will also pay dividends to the Territory in the form of reduced expenditure on government services and increased participation in the economic and social life of our city.

“Ultimately, if people are not spending all the money they have on keeping a roof over their head, this frees up household resources for extracurricular activities for kids, social outings at small businesses with friends and to meet the costs of services that enhance health and wellbeing. It’s a win-win for the Territory,” Mr Gilbert said.

ACTCOSS will be giving evidence to the Australian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue’s inquiry into housing affordability and supply in Australia tomorrow, Wednesday 10 November 2021 at 12.20pm.

CHIA ACT contact:

Andrew Hannan, National Chair, CHIA and Chair of CHIA ACT Regional Committee, M: 0404 861 896, E: [email protected]

ACT Shelter contact:

Travis Gilbert, CEO, ACT Shelter, M: 0437 166 610, E: [email protected]

ACTCOSS contact:

Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACT Council of Social Service, M: 0424 910 617, E: [email protected]

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