By Meg Hill
Council to Homelss Persons CEO Jenny Smith has called on the state government to announce a plan for permanent housing amid rising homelessness in Melbourne due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In July the State Government extended funding providing emergency housing in empty hotels for people experiencing homelessness, including roughly 1000 people currently sheltering in CBD hotels.
The initiative was brought-in at the start of the pandemic and the new round of funding will extend the program until April next year and will also cover the cost of leasing 1100 private rental properties for permanent homes.
Jenny Smith, who presented to CBD residents’ group EastEnders in late July, said she had previously warned the temporary hotel housing would create a “bottleneck” and has urged the state government to announce a plan for permanent housing.
“We’re absolutely delighted the government has announced the transition piece, capitalising on vacant rental properties and looking at medium term tenure for people is fantastic,” she said.
“But what we need to come up and meet to make it a successful outcome is social housing; housing people will be able to afford on the lowest income in our communities.”
Ms Smith said the sector had asked the government to provide 6000 new social housing properties a year for the next 10 years, to bring Victoria to the national social housing average of 4.5 per cent.
Victoria currently has the lowest proportion of social housing stock in the country – 3.2 per cent of all housing.
Ms Smith said that in the first couple of months of the pandemic 4500 people were placed into hotels around Victoria.
“That showed that people who are rough sleeping do want the opportunity to have safe shelter and will say yes when offered accommodation of modest quality and that is safe, and we really should be able to capitalise on this and give people a long-term outcome.”
“One of the downsides is that while at this point its mid-August, some people might have been in hotels from mid-March and they’ve lived with uncertainty that whole time – with deadlines approaching and then funding being extended.”
Ms Smith also said that given the low stock of social housing and the high number of people experiencing homelessness or on a public housing waiting list, vulnerable people were being prioritised.
“Even now when we know we have the funding until April it’s not enough for everybody and our sector is having to prioritise the most vulnerable people.”
“It’s more than 2000 people but with 25,000 people experiencing homelessness in Victoria every right, according to the last census, even with this effort from the government we are having to prioritise.”
“We prioritise for vulnerability, so women and children we often prioritise.”
There is an estimated 80,000 people on the public housing waiting list in Victoria.
“I think the announcements in Victoria have made have led the country in terms of a response, and the maintenance and renovation package the government announced – 23 social housing properties being renovated – will keep some properties that would have gone offline going and bring some that are offline waiting for maintenance online,” Ms Smith said.
“So, that will increase social housing to some extent, as well as the additional 148 social housing properties announced in the recent package.”
“What’s important now is that the state government and the federal government act on social housing now as an economic stimulus when they do need to provide that in this downturn.”•