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The need for social housing will increase post-pandemic; is the ACT prepared?

A recent brief from AHURI paints a worrying picture about the levels of mortgage stress that will be created as a fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and now is the time to ask: is the ACT prepared for the pressure that will consequently be placed on the social housing system?

The brief states that for lower income homebuyers earning in the bottom 40% of Australia’s income distribution, levels of mortgage stress were already high before the coronavirus pandemic, and this situation is set to deteriorate even further as Government welfare supports such as JobSeeker and JobKeeper wind back in September 2020.

What this means for community housing providers like us is that we can probably look forward to an avalanche of demand for social housing in the coming months.

Currently, there are nearly 2,500 Canberran families and individuals on the waiting list for public housing and they can expect to wait for anywhere from 6 months to 3 years for a placement. In addition, approximately 5,000 lower-income households in the ACT pay more than 50% of their income on rent, putting them in severe housing stress and at risk of losing their home. It is highly probable that these figures will increase drastically as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our own waiting list has already begun to accrue signalling the growing demand in the community. Many of these applications are from people with the lowest incomes, and some are living in their cars or sleeping rough.

The Grattan Institute’s Recovery Book outlines the urgent policy agenda that governments should implement over the next six months to get unemployment back down to 5% or below. Unsurprisingly, this policy agenda includes urgent and critical investment in social housing in response to the deepening recession.

This approach has already been proven to be successful. During the Global Financial Crisis, a similar initiative resulted in 19,500 social housing units being built and another 80,000 refurbished over two years, at a cost of $5.2 billion. The boost to residential construction was nearly immediate and it’s been predicted that a similar investment today would provide a big boost to the construction industry, which accounts for nearly one in 10 Australian workers.

The Victorian, Western Australian, and Tasmanian governments have already announced funding to construct new social housing and upgrade existing homes as part of their responses to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, we continue to wait for the ACT Government to announce its plan to support community housing organisations to increase social housing and stay a step ahead of this pandemic’s aftereffects on the sector. We hope that well before the ACT election in October, they will share their plan on how they will help community housing providers grow and how they will address the critical shortage of social and affordable homes in Canberra.