Before moving into public housing, Geoffrey Lennie was forced to change homes 43 times in 40 years.
In March, the number of households on Victoria’s social housing waitlist grew to 54,945, up from 50,839 in 2021
The Victorian government has pledged to build 12,000 social housing homes by the end of 2025
Advocates for tenants say the initiative is a good start, but Victoria has a long way to go
A combination of steady rent increases, landlords selling their homes, and the stigma he encountered when he was on a disability pension, forced him to repeatedly navigate the “slaughterhouse” of Melbourne’s private rental market.
“I remember filling out an application for a rental. I took a few steps from the counter to ask a bloke something, and I watched the bloke I was just talking to already dropping my application in the bin,” Mr Lennie said.
After he eventually applied for public housing, Mr Lennie would still spend another seven years on the waitlist, before finally finding a place to call home in Seaford in Melbourne’s south-east.
He says having a permanent home has changed his life.
“I’m no longer going to the doctor so much, my health has improved enormously, and I’m no longer living on the edge of anxiety,” Mr Lennie said.
“I’m able to pay for electricity, I’m able to pay all the bills out of my pension — and I have enough left over to live a civilised life.”
That was more than a decade ago. Since then, Mr Lennie fears it’s only become worse for others waiting for housing, a concern that’s reflected in government figures.
In March this year, the number of households on Victoria’s social housing waitlist grew to 54,945, up from 50,839 in 2021.
Of that list, more than half (30,508 applicants) are on the priority access list, meaning their housing needs are urgent.
The Victorian Public Tenants Association (VPTA) estimates the waitlist accounts for more than 110,000 people who are in need of a home.
“We’re talking about single people, small families, single parents with children, or two parents with children, all waiting for access to safe, secure accommodation,” Katelyn Butterss, CEO of the VPTA, said.
New housing and upgrades planned
According to the Australian Productivity Commission, Victoria spent the least amount on public housing per head out of all Australian states and territories in 2019 — $75 per person, compared to NSW’s $135.
In a bid to catch-up, the Victorian government launched a $5.3 billion infrastructure initiative the following year, with the ambitious goal to build more than 12,000 social housing homes by the end of 2025.
Part of that includes redeveloping the public housing estate in North Richmond, with the government investing $200 million to provide sporting facilities and playgrounds, as well as 144 new homes on a site that’s already home to more than 2,000 residents.
The funding will also go towards upgrading the school drop-off zone at Richmond West Primary, providing extra CCTV cameras at the estate and renovating the existing 21-storey towers.
“These are the sorts of investments that will really make a fundamental difference to the lives of people living here,” Housing Minister Richard Wynne said.
On Wellington Street in nearby Collingwood, the government has also pledged to build 152 new social and affordable homes able to accommodate an estimated 300 Victorians.
Advocates say housing action ‘just isn’t enough’
But the VPTA says while the initiative is a good start, Victoria has a long way to go.
“It’s a huge commitment. When people say it’s historic, they’re absolutely correct, because it is,” Ms Butterss said.
“But unfortunately, our situation in Victoria is such that 12,000 properties just isn’t enough.”
Ms Butterss estimates Victoria needs to build 60,000 properties over the next 10 years to keep up with demand, as cost of living pressures worsen.
“That could force more downward pressure onto the social housing waitlist as private rentals become harder and harder to get.”
The government says 1,300 homes have been built since November 2020, and work on another 6,000 has begun.
A 10-year strategy for social and affordable housing in Victoria is set to be released this year.
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