We all need a safe and secure place to live.
The Greens believe that all Canberrans have the right to housing that is not just safe and secure, but also appropriate and affordable. We believe that this housing is an essential prerequisite to health and social equity.
Because Canberrans have a high average income, most of us can afford housing here. But for people with lower incomes, Canberra is second only to Sydney in its rating as unaffordable.
The reality is that there are more people living in rental stress in the ACT, even after receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance, than in any other state or territory. Further, 1,600 people were homeless on Census night in 2016. These figures are unacceptable, and can and should be improved.
A more functional and fair housing system would benefit not only people on low incomes, but all Canberrans.
- Low and moderate income could afford to live in housing that suits their needs.
- Adult children could afford to leave home, establishing their independence and allowing their parents to downsize.
- Women and children could more easily escape domestic violence.
- The local economy would benefit, as people would have greater discretionary income if they were not spending so much of their money on rent or a mortgage. A significant burden could also be taken off our justice and health systems. Experiencing homelessness not only causes illness, but it can exacerbate pre-existing health issues to critical levels.
Fixing the housing market
The current housing crisis is a result of market failure and the failure of government policy.
At the Federal level, we need to reform the current arrangements regarding negative gearing and capital gains tax, which together have been responsible for driving speculative investment in housing, which in turn has driven up prices. The Federal Government’s funding of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement is also inadequate.
Maintaining public housing
Here in Canberra, public housing has been the foundation of our housing system. In 2001 public housing made up 10.2 % of all ACT dwellings, now it has fallen to just 7.1%.
Of the 4,060 dwelling sites that will be released in 2018-19:
- 60 will be public housing—that’s less than a quarter of the current rate of public housing.
- 20 will be new community housing residences—doing little to give Canberrans not eligible for public housing, but financially locked out of the private rental market, a fair go.
This does not even maintain the current rate of social housing in the Territory, as our population grows.
The Greens want to stop this decline and for the ACT Labor party to do better to keep its promises on improving social and affordable housing in the Territory.
This means that a minimum 7.1% of the ACT’s housing stock must be public housing or managed by a not-for-profit organisation, where rent is set at a maximum of 25% of tenants’ income.
Expanding Common Ground Gungahlin
The ACT Greens believe that an additional building at the Common Ground housing site in Gungahlin would be a simple and cost-effective way to expand housing opportunities for persistent rough sleepers and Canberrans in need of affordable rentals.
The existing Common Ground is the result of the 2012 Greens-Labor Parliamentary Agreement and since opening in 2015, has provided 20 dwellings and support services for people leaving rough sleeping. Additional dwellings are needed as figures from the 2016 Census show a dramatic increase in the number of rough sleepers in Canberra, which has almost doubled from 28 people in 2011 to 54 in 2016.
The remaining 20 Common Ground dwellings have successfully accommodated people in need of affordable rental. Anglicare Australia’s recent Rental Affordability Snapshot reinforced how dire the rental situation is for low income Canberrans.
As the Government already owns the surrounding vacant land and health, counselling and support services are at the ready this approach makes sense.
The Greens believe that the ACT Government must also implement policies that grow the supply of affordable rental housing, including properties where rent is set at a discount to market.
According to Anglicare Australia’s Rental Affordability Snapshot, over the last year in Canberra:
- No homes were affordable for single parent families where the parent earns the minimum wage.
- Only 28 rental properties were affordable for a couple both on the minimum wage.
- Only 55 homes were affordable for single people earning the minimum wage.
This is not acceptable, especially when we know that around 2,500 properties are sitting vacant.
That's why the Greens were pleased to see our proposed vacancy tax on investment properties introduced by the Government in May 2018. We hope that the vacancy tax will contribute to increasing the availability and affordability of rental homes in Canberra.
The expansion of Common Ground Gungahlin suggested by the Greens would be another way of getting some relatively quick runs on the board to meet the needs of Canberra’s low-income renters.
Unfortunately, there are many outstanding issues for renters that need to be addressed by the ACT Government sooner rather than later. The process of reviewing the Residential Tenancies Act began four years ago, and for the past two years, the Government has been sitting on this review.
While some progress has been made on a first tranche of reforms, the community is still waiting for the second tranche of recommendations to be implemented. They include:
- Reducing the maximum rent payable in advance to two weeks, instead of the current four weeks, consistent with NSW.
- Allowing tenants to give 14 days notice to leave a rental property if they have been offered social housing.
- Removing discrimination against pet owners.
- Placing greater focus on sustainability and energy efficiency.
- Implementing minimum standards for safety and security.
The ACT Greens will continue to urge the Government to deliver these reforms as a matter of priority.