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(AUSTRALIA) ACT Commissioner for Housing Report: Currently owns 11,595 properties, including 10,853 designated public housing dwellings with 20,967 residents but are they up to standard many residents say NO #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – Aug.09: It started with a water leak in the bathroom, but it led to every parent’s nightmare: Canberra mother Tori Oppelaar now lives in fear that her three children are being exposed to asbestos whenever they use the bathroom in their Kambah home: [Water] leaked down behind the tiles and made the glue weak, so tiles started falling off [the shower wall],” she said: I’ve been told that the glue isn’t asbestos, but the parts of the wall that had been ripped with the glue where the tiles are falling off is asbestos.”

#AceDailyNews says pressure is building in the ACT’s public housing market as more people are locked out of rentals and Ms Oppelaar said her landlord, ACT Housing, had done little to help other than put up some plastic sheeting to cover the missing tiles, because it planned to sell the property but read what she says they call safe …..

A wall where tiles have fallen off
Ms Oppelaar fears that parts of the wall where the tiles are falling off could be exposing her to asbestos.(ABC News: Adam Kennedy )

She has been told the property is safe to live in as long as the asbestos sheeting is undisturbed, but has been waiting to be transferred to another property for the past 18 months.

“Every time I go to the bathroom … I look at it and I’m, like, this is so dangerous, me walking in here, this is so dangerous, me opening the door for it to come out into the rest of the house, it’s just so unsafe,” she said.

“I don’t want to bath my kids … because I don’t want them in the bathroom because it’s so unsafe,” she said.

“I’d be happy to live here and stay here if it was safe for my children, but it’s not, all that bathroom is doing is causing health issues and compromising me and my children.”

Increasing complaints about Canberra’s public housing

Craig Wallace, from the ACT Council of Social Service, said his organisation had heard increasing complaints about the quality and maintenance of public housing in Canberra.

He said the organisation heard from “people facing long waiting times for maintenance, people with issues with soundproofing and heating and cooling, with black mould in their houses, neighbourhood disputes that aren’t being resolved”.

A man wearing a brown tie crosses his arms with the ACTCOSS poster in the background.
Craig Wallace says ACTCOSS is hearing increasing complaints about the quality and maintenance of public housing in Canberra.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty )

The ACT Commissioner for Housing currently owns 11,595 properties, including 10,853 designated public housing dwellings with 20,967 residents.

The remaining 742 are leased to community service providers.

And the ACT government plans to increase its total stock to 12,100 properties by mid-2025.

To maintain these properties, the government uses facilities management company Programmed on a $235 million contract.

The contractor completes more than 55,000 work orders each year ranging from minor maintenance tasks through to major property refurbishments and upgrades.

ACT Housing said Programmed worked to ensure that communication between subcontractors, staff and housing tenants was effective.

“All public housing dwellings continue to meet health and safety standards and maintenance works are prioritised to ensure they meet those standards,” an ACT Housing spokeswoman said.

“Housing ACT is committed to providing the best possible accommodation and support tenants who reside in public housing properties.”

Canberrans waiting up to 4 years for housing

Canberrans in need of public housing, typically wait 1,264 days for standard housing – nearly three and a half years.

The wait time for those with high needs is 761 days. Canberrans in need of priority housing have to wait 283 days.

Currently, there are nearly 5,000 people on the housing waiting list, with 2,914 approved applications.

Waiting list 

Category 

Number of Applications

Number of people 

Median wait delays

Housing

Priority 

192

561

283

High needs

1,768

2,894

761

Standard

954

1,482

1,264

Total

2,914

4,937

Transfer

Priority 

248

649

308

High needs

555

1,307

656

Standard 

197

428

997

Total

1,000

2,384

Source: ACT Government, as at July 31, 2021.

The ACT has more public housing dwellings per capita than anywhere else in Australia, but Mr Wallace said the amount of available housing had not kept up with demand.

“A person who is applying for social housing in the city faces a wait of … just on three years now, that is longer than JFK was president, than Kevin Rudd was prime minister — counting both terms — and would mean that a person is waiting until 2025,” he said.

“In a city like Canberra, that prides itself on being affluent and prosperous, that’s not good enough.”

Dirt falls from the roof of a Canberra roof
This is what one public house in Canberra looks like, with the roof decaying onto those living in the property.(Supplied)

Mr Wallace welcomed the government’s renewal program, but said the ACT needed more than 3,000 extra properties back in 2016 – both public and community housing — just to make up the shortfall.

He projected the ACT would need another 8,000 properties between now and 2036 to keep up.

Market demand pricing many out of the market 

ACT Homelessness and Housing Services Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said the skyrocketing real estate market was putting unprecedented demand on housing.

“We are seeing an increase in the waiting times and that’s because we have got more people that are identifying that they need help,” she said.

Public housing is income tested, so some renters join the growing queues for government help, while others fall into a housing limbo.

Mr Wallace said ACTCOSS had even started seeing public servants on average incomes struggling to cover rent.

“In order to pay their rent, people are having to compromise on heating and cooling, in a city like Canberra, they’re compromising on clothing, they’re not going to the dentist, they’re not getting proper nutrition, they’re becoming unwell,” he said.

 Ms Vassarotti said the government was working hard to increase housing stock, but admitted the government did not have enough to meet demand.

“[The fact people now see] houses as an asset for capital accumulation rather than a home, has created a real mix of challenges that makes ensuring that everyone does have a decent home really difficult,” she said.

So, what can be done? 

YWCA Canberra chief executive Frances Crimmins said the solution was to build more affordable and public housing.

“Social housing is infrastructure, we need social housing as well as the roads as well as all those other infrastructure projects and it does grow in value,” she said.

A woman with blonde hair smiles for the camera
Frances Crimmins says more affordable housing needs to be built in Canberra.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty )

But the minister said it was not an issue the government could solve alone.

Ms Vassarotti said the government was supporting programmes such as build-to-rent, leasing at below-market in return for financial and tax incentives, and planning reforms to deliver more affordable housing stock.

YWCA Canberra runs one such affordable housing initiative, RentWell, which enables homeowners to lease their properties via the YWCA.

Ms Crimmins said the program’s first tenant purchased the property after only two years, because housing security allowed her to return to work.

Despite the huge amount of public money involved, stakeholders said investment in housing saves society in the long-term.

#AceNewsDesk report ………Published: Aug.09: 2021:

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