Victoria’s public housing crisis continues

Sam CucchiaraThe Victorian government is facing criticism over a lack of funding for the public housing sector.While the state government has committed an additional $200 million in funding to homelessness support services since being elected in 2010, opposition housing spokesperson Richard Wynne says Housing Minister Wendy Lovell has not provided “one extra dollar” for housing across three budgets.“It is likely that she will finish her career as Housing Minister with a net decrease in the number of public and social housing units in this state,” he told Represent.This follows calls to address the state’s homelessness crisis, with Victoria’s peak homelessness body last week announcing a plan to eradicate street homelessness within 10 years, at a net cost of $143 million. The proposal, which aims to move around 1000 rough sleepers off the streets and into supported accommodation, was part of a pre-budget submission to the state government by the Council to Homeless Persons.Neither the government nor the opposition would confirm if they would fund the initiative.Speaking on Represent, Queer Officer at the National Union of Students Naomi Farmer echoed Mr Wynne’s concerns. “There hasn’t been more public housing built in this state in decades,” she said.Ms Farmer attacked the private property market, blaming homelessness on its profit-driven nature. According to Ms Farmer, there are about 100,000 homeless people across the nation, but more than 200,000 empty houses.Max Williams from the Young Liberals, however, believes housing affordability is the real issue.“By increasing the supply of housing to meet that demand, housing prices will drop,” he said. But urban planning laws first needed to be relaxed to allow for more development across both urban and regional areas, Mr Williams said. In a written statement to Represent, Housing Minister Wendy Lovell’s office would not comment on public housing, but said the government spends around $220 million per year in funding community service organisations, which provide support to homeless people.The state government has funded a number of new programs since being elected, including 11 ‘Innovation Action Projects’ as part of the 2008 Victorian Homelessness Action Plan. The projects have focused on finding new ways to both prevent homelessness and intervene in its early stages. Three foyers have recently been built for disadvantaged youth who want to study but are unable to live at home. Other initiatives have included extra funding to support prisoners transitioning from incarceration, and funding for case workers to assist women and children to safely remain in the family home in circumstances involving violence.  The former Labor federal government also cemented its commitment to reducing homelessness in 2008, with the release of a white paper, The Road Home. The paper aims to halve homelessness and provide supported accommodation to all rough sleepers by 2020.This led to the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) in 2009. Under the agreement, Australian and state and territory governments worked together to implement the agenda outlined by the federal white paper, with the state and federal government jointly contributing around $209 million to Victoria over five years. Despite this agreement ending in June 2013, the NPAH was extended until June of 2014 at the Coalition of Australian Governments meeting in 2012.  But Jenny Smith, CEO of Council to Homeless Persons, says Australia is in a “very difficult situation” as there is no commitment to reinstate that funding model after it expires this year. The Victorian government says it is working with the Commonwealth to secure a more “constructive and longer term arrangement” to the NPAH.Opening Doors – 24 hour homelessness crisis support line – 1800 825 995

January 22nd 2014
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