Public housing is under-utilised and overcrowded


                                 

 

An AIHW report released this month shows that 1-in-6 Victorian public housing properties are ‘underutilised,’ and 5% are overcrowded. 

‘Underutilised’ means that the properties contain spare bedrooms that are going unused by the residents. For example, a single person may be living in a three-bedroom public housing property, while a family of three experiencing homelessness waits to be housed.  The dire shortage of 1&2 bedroom public housing properties means people living in underutilised properties can’t downsize if they wish to.

The report ‘Housing Assistance in Australia’ shows that Victoria has the third worst public housing underutilisation rate of all states and territories. 

 

Proportion of households in social housing with under-utilisation, by state and territory, at 30 June 2016 (per cent)

 

Social housing program

NSW

Vic

Qld

WA

SA

Tas

ACT

NT

Total

Public housing

15.2

15.6

15.5

14.5

26.2

14.8

17.1

7.1

16.4

SOMIH

28.2

. .

17.9

. .

30.0

16.7

. .

. .

24.8

Mainstream community housing(a)

14.5

7.2

3.5

8.7

22.3

15.4

4.0

n.a.

12.2

Source: AIHW, 2017

 

This phenomenon highlights that the effective provision of public housing isn’t just a matter of providing adequate numbers of residences, but that the type of residence and their ability to meet the needs of tenants, is of equal importance. 

A likely cause of under-utilisation is the ‘ageing out’ of families from their allocated property, i.e. a family may have the need for several bedrooms when they’re first matched with a home, but as children grow up and leave the home, the parent/s remain and are unable to relocate to smaller properties. 

The shortage of 1-2 bedroom public housing properties is a double-edged sword. It isn’t just preventing long-term single residents from relocating to smaller properties, making larger ones available to families– it also increases wait times for single public housing applicants – making the shortage of smaller public housing properties a key driver of homelessness.  

The increase in rough sleeping in Victoria and around Australia is directly proportional to the lack of supply of affordable housing for single people. In the private rental market, one-bedroom rentals are well out of reach for low-income earners (last week’s DHHS rent report showed that just 4-in-1000 one-bedroom rentals are affordable to a Newstart recipient). Combine this, with the short supply of one-bedroom public housing, and you have the current disaster on our doorstep.  

At the other end of the problem, the AIHW report shows that 8,000 Victorian public housing households (5% of public housing households) are overcrowded.   

Overcrowding can also cause homelessness. 

Joal, who experienced homelessness for many years, was forced out of home at 16 because of an overcrowded living situation. 

When Joal’s mother lost her home due to mental health issues, she, Joal and Joal’s three teenage siblings found themselves living together in a three bedroom unit. 

“There was 5 of us living in a three bedroom unit…and we were all teenagers so we would fight a lot.  Mum slept on the couch because she felt bad so she gave us the rooms.”

The family conflicts sometimes became physical and eventually, the stifling living arrangements forced Joal out. 

“It just got too chaotic and I left.  I had to go, I had to leave.”  

After leaving the unit, Joal began to couch-surf, which triggered the beginning of years of homelessness.

 

Proportion of overcrowded households in social housing, by state and territory, at 30 June 2016 (per cent)

Social housing program

NSW

Vic

Qld

WA

SA

Tas

ACT

NT

Total

Public housing

4.2

5.0

4.1

4.4

2.1

3.9

4.6

8.0

4.2

SOMIH

7.7

. .

11.8

. .

7.5

3.6

. .

. .

8.9

Mainstream community housing(a)

9.4

3.3

1.7

1.6

2.3

3.3

1.0

n.a.

5.3

Source: AIHW, 2017

 

The policy solution to both under-utilisation and overcrowding is obvious: to focus on boosting the supply of 1 and 2 bedroom social housing. 

This is one of CHP’s major policy platforms. In this year’s State Budget submission we called for 10,000 new one-bedroom social housing dwellings.  

With 195,000 Australians waiting for social housing, the AIHW report is a wake-up call to the fact that as well as building more social housing, we need to be building the right kind in order to effectively kerb the epidemic of homelessness.