‘This will change lives’: $5.3 billion social-housing

After decades of under-investment, the number of households on the social-housing waiting list in Victoria had ballooned to 48,529 as of September 30, the equivalent of more than 100,000 people.

By Jewel Topsfield and 

Royce Millar

Victoria will pump $5.3 billion into building more than 12,000 homes within four years to tackle homelessness and create construction jobs in the biggest single spend on social housing in the state’s history.

After decades of under-investment, the number of households on the social-housing waiting list in Victoria had ballooned to 48,529 as of September 30, the equivalent of more than 100,000 people.

Construction of 9300 new social-housing homes – including replacing 1100 old public housing units – will be one of the cornerstones of this month’s state budget.

Social housing includes both public and community housing and is provided to people on low incomes, with priority given to those who have experienced homelessness, family violence or mental health issues.

Victoria has the lowest proportion of social housing in Australia. Only 3.2 per cent of Victoria’s housing stock is social housing – about 81,000 dwellings – below the national average of 4.2 per cent.

The package is expected to generate $6.7 billion in economic activity and will boost the state’s social housing supply by 10 per cent within four years.

It also includes 2900 affordable homes, to be let at below-market rates, built to help people on low- to moderate incomes live closer to where they work.

A quarter of the $5.3 billion will be allocated to regional Victoria, where there is high demand for priority access to social housing in areas such as Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat.

“This will change lives – giving thousands of Victorians the security and stability of a home and tens of thousands of Victorians a job,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.

The building industry has been urging the government to invest in social housing, with Master Builders Association of Victoria CEO Rebecca Casson saying almost 30,000 Victorian building and construction workers had lost their jobs since March.

Ten per cent of the work on the major housing projects will be done by apprentices, cadets and trainees and hundreds of jobs will be created for women, Aboriginal Victorians, people with a disability and social-housing tenants through social procurement targets.

In an interview with The SundayAge, Housing Minister Richard Wynne said the government would work with social-housing providers, the private sector and local government to deliver the housing.

“Without doubt this is the biggest commitment by any state government ever,” Mr Wynne said. “This makes a huge dent in the social housing waiting list.”

The first sites to be developed will be in West Heidelberg, Ascot Vale, Flemington, Hawthorn, Richmond and Ashburton.

Tenants of public housing are charged at no more than 25 per cent of their income and those in community housing, which is run by not-for-profit agencies, are charged no more than 30 per cent of their income.

Two thousand of the new social-housing homes will be allocated to people with mental illness, which accounts for a quarter of those on the priority waiting list.

Tenzin Laktso, who has post-traumatic stress disorder and cognitive depression, said public housing had made a huge difference to his life.

The 44-year-old has lived in public housing units since 2017. He spends 25 per cent of his disability pension on rent, which he says is manageable.

“Accommodation is the foundation for everything, for wellbeing, for going out and looking for jobs,” Mr Laktso said.

A new government agency, Homes Victoria, has been established to deliver and manage public housing.

It will spend $948 million spot purchasing properties, as well as in-progress or ready to build projects, where social and affordable housing is urgently needed as well as building on vacant sites the government already owns.

Combined with new housing from existing investments such as the controversial Public Housing Renewal program and Social Housing Growth Fund, construction of more than 15,800 new homes will begin over the next four years.

The state opposition has called on the government to make a record investment in social housing in the budget.

Opposition housing spokesman Tim Smith said: “A recent report by the Productivity Commission found the Andrews government spends less than half the national average per person on social housing.”

The Greens, which called for 100,000 new public-housing homes over the next decade, welcomed the billions being spent.

However, Greens acting housing spokesman Sam Hibbins said the party did not want a repeat of the $185 million public-housing renewal program in which nine public housing estates were sold to developers to rebuild with a mix of private apartments and social housing.

Mr Wynne told The Sunday Age the program would be reassessed when the nine estates were completed.

Property Council acting executive director Matthew Kandelaars said investment in social housing, delivered in partnership with private-sector innovation and expertise, would address both an urgent need for more social housing as well as economic activity and jobs.

“We want to see this activity happen as quickly as possible to get Victorians into work and into homes.”

Swinburne University professor of housing studies Terry Burke said the package was an important and welcome initiative.

“For the state to go it alone on this scale hasn’t been replicated anywhere in Australia,” he said.

Professor Burke said the challenge was where to build the housing. “The obvious place to put them to maximise dollars is the outer suburbs, but you really want to put them in the middle and inner suburbs where people have access to services, particularly health and employment opportunities.”

He said the government was also faced with the challenge of managing social housing as well as building it, especially when many tenants needed both shelter and support.

Victorian Council of Social Service CEO Emma King said the new social housing would change thousands of lives. “We already had a housing and homelessness crisis and COVID made it worse. This is such a massive help to solving the crisis while also helping the state move towards recovery.”

Victoria’s big housing build

  • Victoria’s $5.3 billion Big Housing Build will construct more than 12,000 homes across metropolitan and regional areas for social housing.
  • More than 9000 new homes will be built, including replacing 1100 old public housing units.
  • Almost 3000 more homes will be built to help people on low- to moderate incomes live closer to where they work. 
  • $6.7 billion in economic activity is forecast, underwriting 10,000 jobs a year over the next four years. 

Jewel Topsfield
Jewel Topsfield

Jewel Topsfield is a senior reporter at The Age. She has worked in Melbourne, Canberra and Jakarta as Indonesia correspondent. She has won multiple awards including a Walkley and the Lowy Institute Media Award.


Royce Millar
Royce Millar

Royce Millar is an investigative journalist at The Age with a special interest in public policy and government decision-making.


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