I am pleased today to move this motion on public housing. This is a very important issue.
The ACT government is committed to providing safe, affordable and appropriate housing that supports tenants and applicants in a sustainable way. And we can be proud that Canberra does more than most Australian communities to support people through the provision of public and community housing.
This is not by accident. It is because successive governments in the ACT have known a fundamental truth about the people who live in our city. We are a community who care about the vulnerable, who include the vulnerable as valuable and contributing members to our social fabric and who expect our political leaders to put those values into action.
We provide housing for people most in need. Our housing plays a very important role in providing accommodation to the lowest 20 per cent of household incomes in the ACT. We also support tenants who have additional needs, and in each case our aim is to support people to sustain their tenancies. This is at the core of who we are as a city and a society. We recognise that vulnerable people contribute to the fabric of our society, and we are a city and a society that value that contribution.
I think most Canberrans would agree that we can measure the strength and success of our community by how we provide opportunities for our most vulnerable members. In fact, I do not think there is any higher test. And one of the ways we can support the most vulnerable people in our community is through providing good-quality housing.
Unfortunately, public housing sometimes gets a bad name. People sometimes think it means higher crime rates, gangs and ghettos. This is incorrect and unfair.
Have a think for a moment about the people who might need the support that public housing provides. It might be a mother with her two young children who are affected by family violence and have nowhere else to go. It might be an elderly pensioner who has lived in the community all their life. It might be a young man with a disability who wants to live independently for the first time. It might be a family of refugees who have fled violence and instability and who are establishing a new family life in this great city. The profile of people in public housing is diverse.
Public housing is a fundamentally important part of our community. It provides stability and certainty to many members of the community when they need it most. It gives members of our community an opportunity to get on their feet. It may help them to get out of the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage and become contributing members of our society.
But public housing is not something we can set and forget. Canberra’s long history of public housing comes with a legacy: the oldest public housing portfolio in Australia.
Much of our public housing was built quickly, to the standards of a different time, and it has reached the end of its life. I do not think anyone driving down Northbourne Avenue can look at our public housing stock there and say, “That is the standard I want to measure my community’s success by.” We can do better, and so we must do better.
Quite simply, much of our public housing stock does not match the needs of public housing tenants and applicants on the waiting list. These needs include improved security for women escaping domestic violence, the capacity for ageing in place for older tenants and adaptable and livable design for tenants with a disability. People living with a disability make up almost 40 per cent of our public housing tenants.
Bedsits and single-bedroom apartments may have worked well as temporary accommodation for freshly arrived public servants, but that was 50 years ago. That accommodation simply does not work for people with a disability, for ageing tenants or for anyone with a child. Renewing our portfolio means we will be better able to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our community, break down aggregations of disadvantage and better integrate public housing and our public housing tenants into our community.
So the time to renew Canberra’s public housing has come. I am very proud to be part of a government that is taking the lead when it comes to public housing renewal, proud to be part of a government that recognises the importance of providing good quality housing to those who need it most, that approaches this significant task with a very clear head, and recognises that it is in the interests of our community, and in particular public housing tenants, that we better meet their needs. And the ministerial team is committed to working with tenants to deliver this result.
In fact, this will be the largest renewal of public housing in the history of self-government, replacing stock which has reached the end of its useful life with modern homes far more suited to the needs of our tenants. This five-year plan will drive urban renewal across our city and improve the range of housing choices available to ACT residents. It will also allow us to move away from multi-unit complexes of public housing, which can concentrate disadvantage, and develop homes that are more affordable and better meet the needs of our tenants. Public housing is located throughout Canberra in most suburbs and will be further incorporated in our newer suburbs.
Public housing is an important strategy to alleviate poverty and social disadvantage in our community. And as a community we have made a deliberate decision to make sure we do not have big concentrations of disadvantage. We know that outcomes for public housing tenants are best when we integrate public housing into our community.
It means better outcomes for our community as a whole and certainly better outcomes for our public housing tenants. Everyone can make a positive contribution to our community if we help provide the personal circumstances and living arrangements to allow that to happen.
Our public housing renewal program will deliver housing that suits the needs of our tenants. It will support our ageing tenants, our tenants with disabilities and our tenants with children. We value the benefits of having mixed communities, people living side by side, educated in the same schools and mixing together, modelling behaviour that prioritises community, work and family.
“Salt and peppering”, as it is known, is part of the public housing asset management strategy. This is not a formula; it is an intention to provide public housing in as many parts of the community as possible. Salt and peppering of social housing is important to achieve fairness in our community. It is about providing people with equal opportunities, whether they be renters or property owners. And it means public housing in Canberra is becoming indistinguishable from other forms of housing. It avoids the negative elements of concentrations of disadvantage and social stigmatisation that obviously disadvantaged areas can have.
From a social policy perspective, salt and peppering has been the backbone of addressing social outcomes and addressing disadvantage. It has helped us to encourage people to have aspirations and become home owners for the first time. It has helped people to have the stability they need to move on and move forward. Salt and peppering has been built into the fabric of our community. It means better integration with public transport and community facilities.
Currently, our biggest stocks of public housing are in the inner north and inner south, which reflects the development that took place 50 or 60 years ago. Over the decades since, there has been an approach to get public housing into the other regions of the city, including Belconnen, Tuggeranong, Woden and Weston Creek, and Gungahlin, to ensure public housing is integrated into our newer suburbs. This is a good thing. As part of the government’s public housing renewal program, there is an opportunity to further invest in public housing and give further effect to salt and peppering. It is still important to have properties in the inner south and inner north and along major transport corridors but salt and peppering will help avoid larger concentrations of disadvantage, which is in everyone’s interests.
Through our public housing renewal program, the ACT government will build over 1,000 modern homes. One part of this plan is for 14 new dwellings in the suburb of Nicholls. The new housing development in Nicholls will be for supportive housing for ageing tenants and for those with a disability. The site in Nicholls is well suited for supportive housing as it is close to the Nicholls shops and the bus service on Kelleway Avenue. The housing will be designed and built to meet the needs of the tenants – I reiterate, for those that are ageing tenants or those with a disability – and in a way that helps the government deliver the services they need, services like meals on wheels and support from community health and social services.
The public housing renewal task force have worked hard to keep the community informed about this development and have reached out to make sure every resident in the community has the information they need. They have consulted residents via a letter on 4 February 2015, another letter to the Gungahlin Community Council on 4 February 2015, a presentation to the Gungahlin Community Council on 11 March and a public meeting just this week, on 4 May, at the Gungahlin library. I am told that the Planning and Land Authority has extended the current period of a development application to the end of this week to make sure any member of the Nicholls community who would like to have a say on this development has the chance to contribute.
Unfortunately it does appear that some members of the Nicholls community have somehow found some incorrect definitions of supportive housing. Let me reassure the Nicholls community that this proposed development is for supportive housing for elderly people and for people with a disability. This type of housing provides enormous benefit to the people who live in them. Of course the government will continue to work with local communities to ensure that the design and location of housing are appropriate to individual locations, as my motion notes. That consultation must be based on facts. If the facts are not known, I and ACT ministers will provide those facts. Consultation has been important, and the Nicholls development has already been adjusted in response to some of the community feedback from more than 80 submissions. For instance, there will now be fewer homes, increased setbacks and more landscaping.
Indeed, there are multiple public housing developments located on sites just like this nearby schools and shops right across our city. Many are well established; some are new. For example, there is a supportive housing complex being built right next door to my children’s school in Harrison. This supportive housing complex is being built by the ACT government in conjunction with Project Independence, an organisation which supports people with a disability to live alone. That development went through detailed community consultation with schools and the general community and then through the full planning process, and construction is underway.
To my knowledge there was no opposition. Indeed, I have direct experience of its being fully supported by the local community. I am somewhat concerned that the Nicholls proposal appears to be so strongly opposed. If that opposition is based on lack of information then I know the ACT government will do what it can to make sure the information is fully available.
Further, across the road from my children’s school is another community housing complex that was built at the same time as the school, a complex with a vibrant and welcoming community that welcomes the local community to walk among their grounds and experience the important heritage track that runs alongside it.
I am sure that, just like the rest of the Canberra community, the residents of Nicholls want to measure the success of their community by the compassion and support they provide for some of our most vulnerable members. I am also sure that we should measure our own actions as community leaders against that same standard, just as our community expects.
Integrating public housing is a critical element of achieving fairness in our community but it must be done in a way that is consultative and in the best interests of tenants and the community. That is why I know the government will continue to work with local communities to ensure that the design and location of our renewed housing are appropriate to individual locations.
Public housing renewal is vital to our overall plan for urban renewal and will take place over the next five years. Owen flats will be the first public housing site to be renewed, and the ACT government are talking closely with tenants there and working one on one with residents to make sure we know exactly what their needs are. I know tenants will want to know where they will be relocated, and that is why it is important that the government provide an update no later than the last sitting day in 2015 on the replacement housing for tenants being relocated as part of the public housing renewal program.
This government know that public housing renewal is not just about building buildings. We know that it is about building communities, and that is exactly what we are doing and will continue to do. I commend the motion.