A DECLINE in applicants on the Housing Authority waitlist is misleading and demand for social housing is at crisis levels, according to Community Housing Industry Association (CHIA) WA project director Barry Doyle.
Mr Doyle’s comments come after the CHIA released its policy platform Systemic Change for Better Outcomes ahead of the State Election.
The report contains five major recommendations, including transferring more housing stock from the Housing Authority to community housing providers, and reviewing the income and asset eligibility limits for social housing applicants.
The number of applicants on the Fremantle zone social housing waitlist, which takes in the City of Melville, dropped from 1578 to 1229 between 2011 and 2016.
That 22 per cent drop is in line with a similar decrease for the entire Perth metropolitan area over the same period, but Mr Doyle said the waitlist did not tell the full story.
“While incomes, including fixed statutory incomes (such as welfare payments) have increased, eligibility thresholds have not,” he said.
“The Aged Pension has increased by an average of 4.9 per cent per annum since 2005, whereas the eligibility threshold for a single person has remained static at $430 per week.
“If that trend continues, we will arrive at the farcical situation where a household on a single Aged Pension of $438.70 per week will be ineligible for social housing by March 2020.”
Income eligibility limits for public housing were also tightened in January 2012 and applicants are now required to meet all criteria on an ongoing basis.
Mr Doyle said the change had prevented many applicants from even making it on waiting lists.
“Increasing average wait times and decreasing new public housing tenancies strongly suggest that the reduction in the waitlist is not, principally, a result of new supply coming online and eroding demand.
“If that were the case, there would have been a corresponding increase in new public housing tenancies and a decrease in wait times since 2010. However, the opposite is true.”
Housing Authority general manager of service delivery Greg Cash baulked at the notion people on the Aged Pension would be excluded from social housing.
“We are aware Aged Pension recipients are approaching ineligibility and are working through it,” he said. “It hasn’t happened yet and we’ll make sure that over time the housing system responds to it.
“Simply lifting income eligibility limits does not address the problem of allowing people to access the housing market more effectively.
“Seniors are a perfect example; as the population ages there will be some that outright own their homes, some with part equity and some that are renting. Some will have superannuation and some will not.
“We need to make sure that the system in WA has options for all of those people, not just that they are eligible to be added to a waitlist.”
Number of public housing properties in City of Melville have slightly fallen
SINCE 2011, the number of public housing properties within the City of Melville has fallen slightly from 1044 to 1036 while the state-wide public housing system has shrunk by 136 to 36,403.
That reduction coincides with the Barnett State Government’s adoption of the State Affordable Housing Strategy, which has delivered nearly 25,000 “affordable housing opportunities”.
“The State Affordable Housing Strategy was released in May 2011 with a minimum target of 20,000 additional affordable housing opportunities to be delivered by 2020,” Mr Cash said.
“That target was achieved in June 2015 – five years ahead of schedule – and a new target was set of 30,000 affordable housing opportunities by 2020.”
Mr Doyle said affordable housing opportunities were important but that the most vulnerable lacked the incomes required to take advantage of cheaper rentals or low-deposit home loans.
“The core business of government, the provision of social housing, has been neglected,” Mr Doyle said.
“Australia has among the lowest level of social housing stock in the developed world and needs to catch up if we are to avoid a bad situation getting much worse.”
Mr Cash conceded Perth’s rapid population growth during the mining boom, as well as a rise in methamphetamine and alcohol abuse, meant there was more demand for social housing from society’s most vulnerable.
“The Housing Authority is responsible for providing housing solutions for a wide range of people and the level of complexity at the bottom of that spectrum is certainly increasing,” he said.
“Drug and alcohol abuse are related to challenges like deteriorating mental health, domestic violence and multigenerational dysfunction, and people in those situations are difficult to progress through the various levels of support the Housing Authority provides.”
Presently, the Housing Authority manages around about 80 per cent of the sState’s social housing with the rest operated by a wide variety of community housing providers.
Mr Doyle said the Housing Authority’s net operating cost per rental property in 2015-16 was $15,342 and that in the last financial year, the public housing system ran at a loss of almost $185 million.
He is calling for the community housing providers to manage 40 per cent of all social housing in WA by 2022.
Mr Cash said the Federal rent assistance available to community housing tenants, coupled with the tax benefits enjoyed by not-for-profit organisations, meant community housing providers had an important role to play in the sector.
“We have already transferred more than $500 million worth of assets to the community housing sector since 2009 on the basis that they will use those properties to increase the social housing stock level,” he said.
“To do that, they have to leverage the value of their property holdings to borrow money and purchase more housing and then service the debt through their revenue streams.
“Before we would consider transferring more housing stock, community providers need to deliver on their current commitments and show both us and the banking sector they have a viable business model that will deliver sustainable growth.”
Public housing properties in the City of Melville
Number of applicants on the wait list for the Fremantle Zone (which includes Melville)
2011/12: 1578 (357 priority listed)
2012/13: 1489 (362 priority listed)
2013/14: 1403 (343 priority listed)
2014/15: 1401 (315 priority listed)
2015/16: 1229 (317 priority listed)