As Christmas looms and we look forward to celebrating another year and spending time with loved ones, some Canberrans will simply be saying "all I want for Christmas is a roof over my head". The federal Labor government has had a busy 2023 in the housing space and this offers the genuine prospect those currently homeless or in acute housing stress could expect some relief in the short to medium term. But hope can be tenuous, and needs to be backed by firm action over the coming year.
Housing Australia was established in November this year. Formerly known as the National Housing and Infrastructure Finance Corporation (NHIFC), it now has stewardship of the Housing Australia Future Fund (the HAFF) and the Social Housing Accelerator Fund (SHAF).
The HAFF is a $10 billion investment managed by the Future Fund, which will provide $500m each year to be invested in social and community housing. This will help address the housing crisis as it will deliver housing when the private sector will not - like public housing did once upon a time.
Separately the SHAF provides $2b for the urgent delivery of social housing supply, including a minimum of $50m of funding for small jurisdictions like the ACT. It was recently announced this will be delivered by the ACT government as public housing, with expectations of 65 new homes from the $50m available. The community housing sector arguably could have made this $50m go a little further and a little sooner, however, 65 new homes are unambiguously a net positive for the Canberra community.
Community housing providers see the HAFF as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address the housing crisis and the last decade of underinvestment in public and community housing in the ACT. It has prompted a gear shift to innovate, partner and ensure the end goal - more housing on the ground for more vulnerable Canberrans - is achieved.
The ACT government has had some disappointing misses in the housing space. It has not yet met its Parliamentary Agreement commitment to establish an Aboriginal-controlled CHP, public housing has been stagnant the last decade despite massive growth in the Canberra population, the government consistently misses land release targets (despite itself setting those targets), and now faces the new problem of land sitting unsold further constraining supply of new housing (just re-price the land already!). However the government is showing some signs of taking the housing crisis seriously and that is welcome news for those most impacted in our community, and for community housing providers.
The Office of the Housing Coordinator General seems to be demonstrating the capacity for action not just talk. Engagement with the community housing sector by the Office has been positive, genuine and proactive, and they seem empowered with genuine discretion.
The ACT government has also engaged with the big community housing providers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne with a view to supplement local industry capacity and ensure Canberra is best placed to deliver the required housing under the HAFF.
Let's hope Santa delivers a dose of enthusiasm and inspiration to the ACT government to complement the new funding from the federal government to continue to do better in the housing space. Failing that, an election year never hurts in focusing a government on its constituents. Failing that, an election year never fails to motivate a renewed focus on the needs of constituents.
- Dan Carton is chair of Havelock Housing, Canberra's largest community housing provider of social and disability housing.