It’s Homelessness Week – and it’s time to re-focus on public housing.
Over the last few years, we’ve heard a lot about social housing. It’s important, and it has its place. It fills a niche, but it isn’t closing the gap.
But it is also eating away at our public housing stock. Public housing is in crisis.
We’ve seen a sell-off of public housing titles, our waitlist and waiting times rising at shocking rates, all while greatest need applicants for public housing have increased. Tasmanians see the consequences in the headlines almost every week:
(“Nathan Fitzpatrick is weeks away from homelessness and has been on the waitlist for four years” The Mercury, 23 May 2023)
Yet in 2021-22 just over 2,000 public and Aboriginal housing properties were transferred to community housing – more than double the number of homes added to our public housing stock.
The wait for housing takes a toll on health and wellbeing, putting lives on hold. Meanwhile the number of dwellings and households in public housing has dropped precipitously over the years:
Figure 1: Size and scope of housing in Tasmania
Source: Productivity Commission (2022). Report on Government Services. Figure 18.1: Size and scope of housing in Tas: https://www.pc.gov.au/ongoing/report-on-government-services/2023/housing-and-homelessness/housing#sizescope
This worrying pattern comes at a time when the cost of housing has never been so high, with rents the biggest contributor to the most recent CPI figures.
Public Housing helps ensure that those who are most at-risk have a roof above their heads.
So what about social housing?
Social housing creates a two-tier system, establishing a ‘sub-class’ of those who need homes, with the neediest falling to public housing. Social housing is also eroding the capacity of Homes Tasmania to fulfill its statutory obligations.
And don’t forget that public housing operates for the public good, not for outside agendas or any other interest. At its heart is its purpose as a safety net for Tasmanians who need it. Circumstances can change in an instant, and there are many political, social, and economic factors that contribute to homelessness.
Fully funded, resourced public services – not just public housing itself – are central to addressing the housing crisis and decreasing rates of homelessness in our state. When Family Violence Counselling and Support Service is understaffed, it impacts on homelessness. When prisons are under staffed, it impacts on homelessness. When the Child Safety Service & Advice and Referral Line is not staffed to meet demand, it impacts on homelessness.
That’s why we need to retain and fortify public services to strengthen communities and uplift social opportunity and quality of life, offer protection for those in need. Governments often think of public housing as a cost – rather than an investment in our communities. But when the most at-risk are lifted up, we all are. Not just through increased social opportunity and quality of life for those doing it tough, not only through reduced strain and demand on other services exacerbated by homelessness and precarity – it’s also about the kind of society we want to be a part of.
Nic Street was recently handed the reigns as Minister for Housing and Construction. We ask that he refocus on delivering public services and reinvesting in public housing first and foremost. It’s time for the Tasmanian Government to take direct responsibility for housing and get its focus back where it belongs – on public services delivering for the public good.