Report shows 10 percentage point drop in Canberra's community housing standards

The percentage of Canberra community housing dwellings meeting minimum national standards has slipped significantly, prompting calls for development opportunities to be offered to providers.

The Productivity Commission's recent report on housing shows a 10 percentage point drop in up-to-scratch ACT dwellings: from 91.9 per cent in 2016 to 81.9 per cent in 2018.

Community Housing Canberra chief executive Andrew Hannan with Minister for Housing and Suburban Development Yvette Berry, who introduced the new ACT Housing Strategy in October last year. Picture: Karleen Minney

Community Housing Canberra chief executive Andrew Hannan with Minister for Housing and Suburban Development Yvette Berry, who introduced the new ACT Housing Strategy in October last year. Picture: Karleen Minney

Officially, standards are met when a house or unit has four working facilities - a bath or shower, something to wash clothes and bedding in, an oven or cooktop, food storage and a toilet - and no more than two major structural problems.

Havelock Housing chairman Craig Shannon said maintenance was a constant issue in the sector, particularly as much of the territory's social housing stock dated back up to six decades.

The organisation - one of 18 community housing providers in the ACT - manages 201 dwellings, most of which are owned by the territory government and targeted towards disabled tenants.

"In terms of [social] housing stock, a lot of it was built in the 1960s. One of your top obligations [as building management] is the maintenance of property," Mr Shannon said.

"We've been working very closely with the ACT government and through the different strategies to improve social housing supply in the ACT."

Mr Shannon said all of Havelock's dwellings should meet the minimum acceptable standards. Cal Ashton, one of 10.9 per cent of ACT youth struggling with unemployment, said he would not survive in the territory's rental market if he was forced out of Havelock's Northbourne Avenue residence.

"There's an understanding of people's different circumstances, which isn't necessarily there in a share house that you got by posting an ad on Gumtree," Mr Ashton said.

The ACT government's 2018-19 housing target sets aside 552 new dwelling sites for social housing as part of the Indicative Land Release Program. Of these, 472 would be dedicated to affordable home purchase and land rent, 60 would provide new public housing, and 20 would be for community housing.

So far, no new sites had been released to community housing providers, Community Housing Canberra chief executive Andrew Hannan said. The organisation owns and manages 420 dwellings in the ACT and was not counted in the findings of the Productivity Commission's report.

"We would like to see a much larger number [of community housing sites] ... and the sooner the key planks of the housing strategy can be implemented, the better." Mr Hannan said.

Community Housing Canberra was assessed every year by national regulators and dwellings had always been of a high standard, Mr Hannan said.

The ACT government's housing strategy, released in October 2018, had a 10-year timeline and included a $100 million commitment to grow and renew public housing over the next five years, a spokeswoman said.

HomeGround, an initiative launched this week by Community Housing Canberra, would allow property owners who offered up their houses at 75 per cent of market rent value given a land-tax exemption, with the help of a $230,000 government grant.

The housing strategy would also have 15 per cent of the Indicative Land Release Program dedicated to social housing. Details on the "first batch" of 151 new dwellings for community housing providers are set to be released soon.

ACT Council of Social Service director Susan Helyar said: "We know that there's a pipeline to make this happen but we need active engagement with property developers to make sure that that pipeline is expedited.

"You know, 2021 [when all the strategy's aspects are meant to have started] is three years after it was announced. That's a long time for people who are homeless or in housing stress. It's a long time for them to wait."

Eight per cent of Canberrans, or almost 26,000, are living below the poverty line on $433 a week. On census night in 2016, nearly 1600 had been counted as homeless.

The Productivity Commission data was based on the views of 177 ACT community housing tenants in 2018, compared with 211 in 2016.

Salvos Housing, which manages 55 community housing properties in the ACT, ensured all of them met minimum standards, a spokeswoman said.

The Environmental Collective Housing Organisation received a 100 per cent tenant satisfaction rate in a recent ACT housing survey and all its properties met standards, coordinator Bhavana Moylan said.

Community housing, as opposed to public or affordable housing, is either owned by the ACT government and managed by a not-for-profit organisation, or owned and managed by the organisations or "providers" themselves.

Providers generally offer long-term accommodation for people on low to moderate incomes but might focus on a particular target group, such as the elderly or those with disabilities.