Australia's social housing stock one-sixth empty with 195,000 people on waitlist

Change in social housing demand being driven by singles and couples for whom most properties are too large

One-sixth of Australia’s social housing stock was left partially empty last year, while 195,000 people languished on waiting lists, new data show.

The data, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, suggests Australia’s social housing stock is ill-suited to meet the changing demographic of tenants.

The Council to Homeless Persons says the change in demand for social housing is being driven by singles and couples, for whom most properties are too large, resulting in under-utilisation.

The council has called for federal and state governments to add 100,000 new properties to the social housing pool within the next five years.

“The scale of this problem shown by the data, I think, is really huge,” the council’s adviser, Kate Colvin, told Guardian Australia.

“We’re calling on the federal and state government to do what it takes to get 100,000 new social housing properties on the ground.”

The figures show 845,400 tenants lived in social housing last year, more than half of whom were either older than 55 or younger than 15.

About one-in-six public housing properties were under-utilised, the numbers showed, as were 25% of state-owned and managed Indigenous housing.

“The only thing that could really solve it is building a lot more stock for singles and couples,” Colvin said.

“Sometimes this issue comes up and some people suggest why don’t we move old ladies whose families have moved on out of their three-bedroom property into a one-bedroom home – but that’s just going to make the problem worse.”

Waiting lists for public housing remain lengthy. About 194,600 households were on social housing waiting lists last year.

More than half of priority applicants, who are usually fleeing violence or unsafe environments, were forced to wait more than three months for a property.

“The amount of stock is just far behind what we need,” Colvin said.

“The shocking thing about those priority applicants waiting months and months is that often people have a priority application because they have nowhere safe to sleep, so they tend to be people who are the most vulnerable and are in the most dire circumstances.”

The number of homeless people has risen from 90,000 in 2006 to more than 105,000 in 2011, a 17.3% increase, despite a target reduction of 7%.

In this year’s budget, the federal government announced reforms to commonwealth-state funding arrangements which tie funding to concrete outcomes on housing affordability.

The government pledged to establish the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation, a bond aggregator that provides cheaper and longer-term finance for community housing.

It also provided additional funding of $375m over three years for frontline services.

At the time, Homelessness Australia said the money only maintained existing funding levels.

“While the increased security of funding for homelessness services is very welcome, the fact remains that we can’t house the 105,000 Australians experiencing homelessness each night until there is a real increase in public housing to get 200,000 people off waiting lists,” Jenny Smith, the Homelessness Australia chair, said.

Prior to the budget, community and homelessness groups had called for the establishment of a social housing target and the removal of negative gearing.

There were also calls for new targets to reduce and eliminate homelessness.

Contributor

Christopher Knaus

The GuardianTramp

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