Housing affordability is constantly in the news. After a decade of rising house prices fewer people are purchasing a home and private rental costs are causing financial problems for many households. Front pages of many newspapers carry the stories of those who are suffering the most – the homeless and those in housing poverty.
Funding cuts to blame for homeless increase, Corio MP Richard Marles says
With next week marking Homelessness Week, Corio MP Richard Marles has called on the Government to demonstrate more leadership to take real action on combating homelessness…There are more homeless people in Geelong than ever before amid increasing funding cuts to frontline services, warns Corio MP Richard Marles.
Geelong Advertiser August 5, 2019)
In theory the solution is simple. International research backed by Australian experience indicates that ‘housing first’ is the right approach – regardless of the many factors contributing to homelessness providing people with safe, secure and affordable housing first enables them to gain the stability necessary to deal with other pressures in their lives.
Social housing is the solution. Social housing is rental housing provided to the lowest income groups in the community, at a rent that is based on their income (generally 30%). Social housing is provided by the State Government (public housing) or by Registered Housing Agencies (RHA’s) (community housing). To achieve the affordability outcome the construction or operations of social housing must be subsidised.
Currently there are only 3,300 social housing dwellings in Geelong. However, there are an estimated 7,200 households in Geelong who urgently need social housing with about 6,400 living in the private rental market and paying in excess of 30% of their income on rent (often more than 50%) and a further 900 who are homeless altogether. The total demand for social housing is therefore estimated at 10,500 dwellings or approximately 11% of all households.
With the population of Geelong expected to grow by at least another 50,000 dwellings over the next two decades, a current shortfall of 7,200 social housing dwellings, and 50% of the existing social housing needing to be replaced over that period, it is estimated that a Social Housing Plan designed to overcome homelessness and housing poverty will need to deliver 13,500 new social housing dwellings by 2041.
This implies the addition of an average 675 social housing dwellings per annum over the next 20 years requiring an estimated investment of $235M per annum. This level of investment is far beyond the capacity of any local government and will only be addressed if State and Commonwealth Governments are committed to addressing the problem.
The City of Greater Geelong (the City) is the level of government closest to the lived experience of homelessness and housing poverty. The City best understands the impact of the lack of social housing on individuals and families and has to carry the burden of supporting people when housing costs force them into poverty, contribute to physical and mental health problems, and eventually lead to a crisis.
The City therefore needs to take a strategic role in driving a new social housing growth strategy for Geelong. This Plan outlines the elements of such a strategy including the following roles:
- Take a Leadership role in advocating for an increase in social housing by presenting compelling data and a coherent strategy to both the State and Commonwealth Governments.
- Invest in social housing by contributing suitable sites surplus to the City requirements and a modest annual budget thereby demonstrating it’s commitment and credibility.
- Develop Partnerships with both the State and Commonwealth Government culminating in funding agreements that will lead to significant growth in social housing over the next 20 years.
- Amend the Planning Scheme in the context of recent amendments to the Victorian Planning & Environment Act and the anticipated outcomes of the new Victorian Ministerial Advisory Committee on the role of planning legislation to support social housing to enable Council to negotiate significant developer contributions to social housing.
- Participate in ongoing Urban renewal plans for Corio, Norlane and Whittington thereby contributing to increased social, environmental and economic sustainability in these three very disadvantaged suburbs.
- Build capacity in the local infrastructure necessary to achieve the social housing growth and regeneration objectives by building key operational infrastructure organisations.
In practical terms, the key initiatives within the Social Housing Plan include a commitment by the City of Greater Geelong to:
- Make available all suitable unutilised City owned land for residential development in a timely manner with a minimum of 30% social housing (42 sites identified).
- Contribute an annual budget of $1M to social housing to leverage investment from other levels of government.
- Adopt a Local Planning Policy for Social Housing and amend the Geelong Planning Scheme to enable the City to negotiate development contribution to social housing in all new developments where the approval of the planning application increases land value.
- Negotiate a Social Housing Agreement with the Victorian State Government which includes: State commitments to funding ambitious growth targets; releasing suitable surplus land for residential development with a minimum of 30% social housing; and completion of urban renewal plans for Corio, Norlane and Whittington.
- Negotiate an Agreement with the Commonwealth government that includes a commitment by the Commonwealth to release all suitable surplus land for residential development including: a minimum of 30% social housing; financial support for the social housing growth strategy through the National Housing Finance Investment Corporation (NHFIC); and allocation of a significant number of National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) incentives to Geelong, if that scheme is reopened.
In order for the Social Housing Plan to be implemented, the City will commit to the establishment of the following two key components of local infrastructure necessary to support social housing growth:
- Geelong Affordable Housing Trust - a special purpose investment vehicle to hold all assets and contributions provided by the City, the State Government, the Commonwealth Government and the private sector (via Section 173 Affordable Housing Agreements). The Trust will provide assurance to all parties that the value of their contributions will be retained as social housing within the municipality in perpetuity.
- Geelong Affordable Housing Company (GAHC) - a special purpose affordable housing development company that is registered as a Housing Association under the Victorian Housing Act and which is appointed by the City as the Trustee of the Trust. It is anticipated that the GAHC will take responsibility for developing and implementing an investment program based on the commitments of the City, the State and Commonwealth Governments and the anticipated contributions to social housing provided through Section 173 Agreements, and subsequently arranging long term management of social housing assets, including the appointment of housing managers with the capacity to provide the best service to the specific residents of each development.
- Visions, aims, objectives and targets
- A social housing plan based on partnerships
- Implementation Plan