Public housing scandal — 70-year backlog
by Andrew Jackson Official figures show that the national public housing waiting lists are currently at 221,313 — a reduction of only 15,000 applicants since 1996. This has been revealed in a new report commissioned by the Australian Council of Social Service. At that rate it will take more than 70 years to clear the backlog and meet new demand. However, the actual situation could be even worse. The tightening of eligibility for all but the very disadvantaged means that the length of the wait has meant many people in genuine housing need have given up in frustration. If these people are included the public and community housing backlog is even longer. Key findings of ACOSS include: * Almost 90,000 low income Australians in the private rental market are paying more than 50 percent of their income in rent. This includes older people on a pension, people with a disability, sole parents, unemployed people and their families. All are suffering severe housing stress despite receiving the maximum Rent Assistance from the Government. * A decline of more than a quarter (28 percent) in real terms in Government investment (excluding GST compensation) over the ten years to 2002-03 is jeopardising the viability of public and community housing. Chronic under-funding by the Federal Government has led to State and Territory Housing Authorities to cannibalise their stock in order to fund maintenance costs. This is leaving low income Australians with fewer alternatives and is forcing them into an increasingly unaffordable private housing market. "The recent focus on home ownership has meant the rise in housing stress being experienced by low income Australians in the private rental market has been virtually ignored." said ACOSS President Andrew McCallum. "Home ownership is simply not an option and never will be for many older people and those not in the workforce. For these and other low income and disadvantaged Australians, public and community housing provides a secure and affordable alternative to the high-cost and often unstable private rental market." "Public and community housing is especially important for women and children rebuilding their lives after escaping domestic violence and for people with disabilities who may have special requirements," added Mr McCallum. Shelter is a basic necessity of life, and the current crisis is another example of governments around Australia abandoning their responsibilities. Public housing, public health and public education are foremost among the essential services being actively dismantled by governments and delivered into the private sector. The public then pays twice over for the services — firstly by paying premium market prices for the services, and then again by subsidising the profit-making corporations through tax-breaks and corporate handouts. Large scale government investment in the housing sector is essential. When government-built low-cost housing for rental and purchase constitutes a significant portion of the market, landlords, property developers, construction companies and banks will be forced to reduce their massive profit margins. It would help to bring an end to the scandalous and escalating cost of housing for low income working people, for pensioners and those with disabilities who, at present, are suffering and being systematically impoverished by the private housing rental and house purchase markets.