MS LAWDER(Brindabella) (11.35): Mr Coe stood in this place last year when talking about the budget for Housing ACT and surmised how tricky this area of government is. He stated:
It is a very diverse area of government whereby you have people who are property managers, people who are counsellors and people who are in effect community nursing. They really are the front line for many people that are often vulnerable and are often in need of assistance, whether it be from the government or from other community groups.
I could not agree with Mr Coe more. It is an incredibly difficult challenge for government in any jurisdiction. It is incredibly difficult to develop the policies that will deal with all aspects of supply and demand for social housing. I commonly say that if it were simple we would have fixed it by now.
I would also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the work that Mr Rattenbury did as the previous Minister for Housing. Housing ACT is part of what should be a housing continuum. Public housing, operated by Housing ACT, should be a place where we cater for our most vulnerable people. It should be a place where we provide a safe and secure home where people can live with dignity.
My concerns with this portfolio start with the rate of homelessness. Of course, the flip side of homelessness is housing. Housing issues in the ACT range from a lack of affordable housing, the expensive private rental market and high cost to purchase right through to government housing and some of its inefficiencies, with the big gap that exists between public housing and the private market—the gap in the housing continuum.
I will talk a little more about housing affordability. We have some of the most unaffordable housing in the country. To buy a home in the ACT now takes 6.2 times the average annual income, as opposed to 3.4 times the average annual income just over 10 years ago. With the median house price over half a million dollars, it is not exactly a market which is easy for first homebuyers to enter. The private rental market is even worse. The 2014 Anglicare national rental affordability snapshot found:
With the exception of shared housing, there were practically no affordable rental options found in Canberra.
That brings us to the question: what is the government doing about it? It is increasing cost-of-living pressures on the residents of the ACT. This is very important to the portfolio of housing. The government is itself putting pressure on the residents of Canberra and increasing the cost of living for families. Rates are increasing by 10 per cent this year alone. What does that do for affordable housing in the ACT? Renewable energy targets will increase electricity bills by at least 16 per cent. What does that do to the cost faced by average families in the ACT? I could go on, but I know those opposite have heard it time and time again from all of my colleagues on this side of the chamber. They know exactly what we are talking about.
Recommendation 5 of the estimates report states:
The Committee recommends that the ACT Government detail to the Assembly, by the last sitting day of October 2014, how it will address the structural drivers in the housing market causing housing to be unaffordable in the ACT.
I find it quite telling that the government did not agree with this recommendation, a recommendation that came from the community groups who work extensively in this space. The government will not agree to detail to the Assembly by the last sitting day of October the structural drivers of unaffordable housing in this territory. Instead, the government are saying that housing affordability has improved because the rental market is cooling off. They obviously have not tried to rent a house in Canberra on a low or medium income recently if they think this slight drop in the rental market now means that houses are affordable. I will put it again simply: just because prices have softened it does not mean prices are now affordable.
The estimates report, at recommendation 24, states:
The Committee recommends that the ACT Government review land release in the ACT to ensure that greater housing affordability is achieved and a reasonable return to the Government from the sale of this asset, and report to the Assembly by the last sitting day of March 2015.
The government are only agreeing in part to this recommendation. They seem to believe they have nothing to report. They think they have released enough land to improve housing affordability, but do not want to report on it to show us whether that is the case. You just need to look at the market to see that there is nothing about it that is affordable. It is because of the unaffordable housing in our territory that we have such high demand on our public housing system and a shortfall in emergency housing. We see the high rate of homelessness according to ABS statistics.
Recommendation 1 of the estimates report states:
The Committee recommends that the ACT Government review the shortfall in emergency housing and report by last sitting day of November 2014.
The government noted this response, but will not report back to the Assembly by the last sitting day in November. It is the same story for recommendation 2:
The Committee recommends that the ACT Government detail to the Assembly by the last sitting day of 2014 how it will address the issue of Aboriginal homelessness in the ACT.
There is recommendation 3:
The Committee recommends that the ACT Government investigate and detail to the Assembly by the last sitting day of October 2014 the true extent of housing stress and homelessness amongst university students in the ACT.
This was reviewed in 2012. The government is now dodging this, claiming that additional studies would provide significant new insights. Housing stress amongst students is a serious problem in this town, and it all stems back to unaffordable housing and the cost-of-living pressures that Canberra families face.
Then we have recommendation 4:
The Committee recommends that the ACT Government report to the Assembly by the last sitting day of 2014 on factors affecting older women at risk/in housing crisis in the ACT.
I am pleased that the government have agreed to examine the recommendations of the ACT Shelter report on this issue, but they are refusing to report back on the factors that affect older women at risk in our town. That is disappointing; this is an issue that has been described as an approaching tsunami.
Then, from the issues we face with affordability and cost of living, we move on to the issue within our own housing stock. It constantly completely blows me away that the ACT government do not have a record of what houses they have in the system with disability access. When following this up, I was told that a five-year audit is being undertaken and that maybe after that they will be able to tell me. The idea that we hold homes in the government's housing portfolio that are modified for disability access and we do not know which homes they are is of great concern.
Apparently the government do not know the state of their stock. They do not know what houses have what insulation or what heating and cooling systems there are. They do not know what modifications have been made. These are all things that any general property manager would know, so it is very surprising that we do not know these things, and it is even more surprising that it is going to take five years and who knows how much money to find out.
I am pleased that the government has agreed to recommendation 86, which states:
The Committee recommends that Housing ACT give consideration to requiring that all future public housing stock be built to meet high adaptability and accessibility standards.
That is a good thing. It still concerns me that we have disability modified homes that are not being adequately utilised because we do not know where they are, we do not know what stock we have. It is a bit like property management 101 if you are in the private sector. It should be a focus for our government, which should be trying to give the greatest support to our most vulnerable residents.
I desperately hope we find a way to decrease cost-of-living pressures on people in Canberra, especially the thousands of Canberrans who are considered at risk of homelessness. I hope that very soon the government will take this issue very seriously and stop increasing costs for everyone. I hope we will be able to increase the number of affordable homes in the ACT and fill that gap in the housing continuum to assist to alleviate the housing crisis we have. And I hope the government will realise how important it is to effectively manage our public housing stock and start managing it in the most efficient and effective way.