Investment in community housing will pay dividends for ACT

ACTCOSS, ACT Shelter and CHIA joint media release, Friday 6 August 2021

This Homelessness Week, the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), ACT Shelter and the Community Housing Industry Association ACT Region (CHIA) have welcomed research highlighting the positive economic and social returns from investing in social housing, including community housing.

The research by the Australian Housing and Research Institute (AHURI) also showed major shortfalls in funding for community housing in the ACT and the urgent need for government support to address the housing and homelessness crisis in Canberra.

The AHURI research found that:

  • Current ACT housing policies have been generating only a small amount of new social housing and have not addressed the housing needs of low-income renters
  • Present policy settings are inadequate to meet existing and future housing need in the ACT. Housing need is high, with around 12,600 households in the ACT unable to enter the housing market or otherwise requiring housing assistance to avoid rental stress.

The report highlighted the importance of social housing in meeting the needs of people on low incomes and those struggling to find appropriate housing. It stated that:

  • Relatively little public funding for social housing goes to community housing in the ACT
  • Operating costs are relatively low in community housing
  • Public and community housing have complementary roles
  • A funding gap for community housing means government support is needed
  • Too many people are dependent upon crisis and temporary housing and that these responses are inadequate to properly address homelessness
  • Providing more long-term social housing in the ACT has the potential to result in signification cost savings to the government.

Dr Emma Campbell, ACTCOSS CEO said: “We are urging the ACT Government to make the ACT’s housing crisis a priority in the forthcoming ACT Budget. The AHURI report shows that it makes both social and economic sense to invest in social housing. This includes investing in the ACT’s community housing providers who have many shovel-ready projects and can quickly deliver social and economic returns to the ACT Government and community.

“Over the past 5 years, in the ACT, social housing as a proportion of total households has declined. Yet, the ACT has Australia’s highest rate of rental stress among lower-income private rental households at 73% and there are virtually zero private rental properties in the ACT affordable to people on Disability Support Pension, JobSeeker or Youth Allowance.”

Travis Gilbert, CEO of ACT Shelter said: “We commissioned this research because we wanted solid local data to demonstrate there is a significant social and economic return on investment the Territory could derive from both direct investment and from adopting an infrastructure investment approach to social and affordable housing supply.

“We now have local data that illustrates that not only are the financial and social costs borne by people experiencing homelessness enormous at a personal level, but also there are enormous costs to government in community services, health, justice, and loss of earnings potential. In some cases, these costs are in excess of $200,000 per Canberran, per year.”

Mr Gilbert said the intent was to ensure the research was made widely available to anyone in government, community services and the housing industry to support future budget bids.

“Ultimately, by availing the research findings to any of our partners in community services, government and industry, we want to amplify the voices of people with lived experience of homelessness and housing crisis. We want to demonstrate to Treasury that a sustained increase in investment in housing infrastructure that will change their lives for the better and will pay dividends to the Territory in the form of reduced expenditure on government services and increased participation in the economic and social life of our city.

“Ultimately, if people are not spending all the money they have on keeping a roof over their head, this frees up household resources for extracurricular activities for kids, social outings at small businesses with friends and to meet the costs of services that enhance health and wellbeing. It’s a win-win for the Territory,” Mr Gilbert said.

Andrew Hannan, CHIA National Chair and ACT Region Director, said: “We welcome the report, and the evidence which further supports our call for greater ACT Government investment, alongside investment from our members, to grow social and affordable rental supply within the ACT.

“In our recent budget submission we outlined a suite of policy levers that would, cost-effectively for government, help move the dial for our members in terms of being able to help a greater number of vulnerable Canberrans. We look forward to continuing to work with government to jointly tackle the ACT’s rental affordability crisis.”

Homelessness Week 2021 is from 1 to 7 August. This year’s theme is “Everybody needs a home”.

The AHURI research is available here. The report was commissioned by ACT Shelter with support from ACTCOSS, Anglicare, Argyle Housing, CatholicCare Canberra Goulburn, Community Housing Canberra, Havelock Housing, St Vincent de Paul, Women's Centre for Health Matters, Woden Community Service, Women's Health Matters, Youth Coalition of the ACT, and YWCA Canberra.

For more information or comment, please contact
Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617 or
Travis Gilbert, CEO, ACT Shelter, on 0437 166 610 or
Andrew Hannan, CHIA National Chair and ACT Region Director,
on 0404 861 896.

© 2021 ACT Shelter