ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Urgent action needed to address ACT’s worsening housing and homelessness crisis

24 January 2023

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has today joined with ACT Shelter in calling on the ACT and Federal Governments to take urgent action to address the worsening housing crisis in the Territory, following today’s release of a national report showing that Canberra remains the most expensive Australian city for people on low incomes to rent, as well as an increasing shortfall in social housing supply.

ACTCOSS Interim CEO Dr Gemma Killen said: “Despite increased funding from the ACT Government, the number of people on the waiting list for public housing continues to grow and our housing crisis continues to worsen. More than 3,100 people are now waiting for a public housing home with an average wait time of almost five years for standard housing.

“It is alarming and unacceptable that thousands of ACT residents are experiencing severe financial and emotional stress due to the ACT Government’s lack of responsive action on housing availability and affordability.”

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

  • Priority public housing applicants are waiting an average of 337 days for a home
  • The average wait time for standard public housing has blown out to almost five years
  • The ACT remains the jurisdiction with the highest rate of lower-income private renters experiencing rental stress (over 60% compared with 52% nationally)
  • There is currently the lowest number of public housing dwellings in the ACT in 10 years after a peak in 2018
  • The average turnaround time for vacant stock in public housing has nearly doubled over the last year from 50 to 90 days
  • In comparison to the rest of the nation, the ACT has the lowest rate of public housing dwellings that are weather appropriate and meet energy efficiency expectations

The ACT remains the most expensive Australian city for people on low incomes to rent a house or a unit. Anglicare’s 2022 Rental Affordability Snapshot showed that no private rental property in the ACT was affordable for single people on Jobseeker or the Disability Support Pension. Less than 3% of private rentals were suitable for a household living on minimum wage without placing them in housing stress.

Dr Killen continued: “Housing is the biggest cost of living pressure for low-income households in the ACT, with higher rates of rental stress than other Australian jurisdictions. If the ACT Government does not address this crisis urgently, we will end up with more families forced into overcrowded homes or homelessness. ACT homelessness services are reporting the highest rates of persistent homelessness for their clients in the nation with 43% of service users experiencing homeless for at least 7 months over the last two years.

“This number is even higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with 47% of service users experiencing persistent homelessness. The ACT urgently requires support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled community housing providers to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.”

ACTCOSS further noted the Report on Government Services data demonstrated that the ACT Government’s housing and homelessness policies were failing to meet the housing needs of Canberrans on low-incomes – including many in full-time work.

While ACTCOSS welcomed ACT Government funding for homelessness services, the organisation noted that need remains high and services still require the security of longer-term funding to deliver sustainable assistance to those who need crisis accommodation and support.

ACT Shelter CEO Travis Gilbert said: "ACT Shelter acknowledges the enormity of the challenge facing State and Territory Housing Authorities as they grapple with balance sheets that are perennially in deficit. Since 1989, Governments have expressed a preference for cash payments designed to price individuals and families receiving social security payments back into the private rental market, at the expense of supply dollars for social housing. This has been disastrous for individuals and families on the lowest incomes.”

While noting the Federal Government had pledged to oversee the construction of 1 million homes over the next 5 years, Mr Gilbert lamented just 1 in 50 of these will be social housing properties.

"Of the 1 million homes pledged by Federal Labor over the five years from 2024, just 2% or 1 in 50 will be social housing units, despite 1 in 10 people being eligible by virtue of income. In the ACT this means about 360 properties on top of the 400 pledged by the Territory. We urgently need the Commonwealth to not only talk the talk when it comes to supply dollars for social housing, we need evidence of them walking the walk," Mr Gilbert concluded.

Dr Killen continued: “There is an ongoing shortfall in social housing dwellings in the ACT, meaning there will be a long wait yet for many of the 3,162 applicants who are currently on the social housing waitlist.

“ACTCOSS continues to call for action from the Australian Government to raise the rate of income support to at least $73 a day and double the rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA).

“The ACT Government must take immediate action to empower our community housing providers to build more homes through access to financial support and affordable land, so that all Canberrans have a safe and secure home, no matter their income,” Dr Killen concluded.

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 Gemma Killen, Interim CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0480 439 131 or 02 6202 7200,
Travis Gilbert, CEO, ACT Shelter on 0437 166 610 or at [email protected].