The Guardian October 23, 2002

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 

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.

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