THE rate of homelessness in the ACT has increased 70 per cent in the last five years, according to the latest census data.
We now have the second-highest rate of homelessness in the country with almost 2000 Canberrans living in overcrowded conditions, in supported accommodation, on the streets, or “couch surfing” (living temporarily in someone else’s house).
The causes of homelessness are complex and the issue is exacerbated by a shortfall in affordable accommodation.
The most recent Australian Property Monitors’ reports state that Canberra is the third most expensive city in Australia. The median rent for a house here is $485 a week and the median house price is more than $556,000. Unable to buy a home and struggling to pay rent, many households turn to social housing for help – a service itself under severe pressure to meet demand.
The Territory Government has taken steps to create more affordable housing in Canberra including an annual target that 20 per cent of housing across all new estates must be affordable.
However, we must also think more creatively about how to improve affordability and increase the supply of homes. Investors should be given incentives to adapt vacant commercial spaces into residential rental properties, increasing the variety of housing options and easing the pressure on the rental market. Taxes on investment properties need to be reduced or waived to encourage people to offer homes for rent. And getting land out to the market ready to build on is critical if industry is to meet the current demand – not just in greenfields, but also on infill sites where new housing can integrate easily into the community and give residents access to existing services.
No one in Canberra should be missing out on secure and stable housing.
Catherine Carter is the ACT executive director of the Property Council of Australia