The Western Australian government will inject $511 million into social housing and homelessness initiatives under the state budget in its latest attempt to combat the housing crisis.
- There will be 700 new social housing homes and fixes to old properties
- Homeless people in regional WA and the Keystart program will also benefit
- Almost 30,000 people were on the social housing waitlist in WA last year
As part of the commitment, $450 million is to be spent on building 700 new social housing homes, as well as fixing the Department of Communities’ ageing housing stock.
The government will also assign $49 million to a program designed to provide 100 supported landlord homes for those experiencing homelessness in regional WA.
Amendments have been made to Keystart’s pilot Urban Connect program, with one-bedroom apartments to become eligible under the scheme.
A new Keystart Loan Program is being introduced to enable customers to secure pre-sale properties that have not yet been completed.
No timeline for 700 new homes
Premier Mark McGowan said the government had now promised more than $2 billion to social housing in the past two years, something that would deliver 4,000 properties.
“We can do this because we manage the budget properly, we retain surpluses, we will be in surplus again in this budget,” he said.
But neither the premier nor Housing Minister John Carey could say when it was hoped the 700 extra homes would be built.
“You’ve got to make sure there’s a pipeline of work going forward so builders continue to employ apprentices and trainees and staff,” Mr McGowan said when asked.
“So this is about making sure that we have more houses for people in the future, and also making sure that we have a degree of certainty for the building industry going forward.”
Mr Carey said the government had already delivered more than 1,200 homes, with around 1,000 under contract or being built.
“And we will of course step up and accelerate as the market recedes,” he said.
“It can take around two years for the planning, contracting, getting land. So you need the money in the budget in future years so you create that certainty for workers.”
Waitlist ‘tied to rental market’: minister
More than 30,000 people were on the Department of Communities waitlist for public housing in WA last year.
As thousands lingered on the waitlist, figures also revealed almost 2,000 social houses across the state were empty and in need of repairs, maintenance or demolition last year.
Mr Carey did not say how many of those homes would be repaired with the $450 million announced today.
But he explained the waitlist was “always tied to the rental market”.
“When the rental market is tight, more people add their names to the waiting list,” he said.
Mr Carey said the solution to that was building more homes, including social homes.
New homes to make a ‘significant difference’
Today’s announcement has been broadly welcomed, including by homelessness support services and housing industry groups.
Shelter WA CEO Kath Snell said 700 extra homes would make a “significant difference” in people’s lives, with people generally waiting about two years to get into a home.
“That’s why we’re so delighted with this announcement today,” she said.
“We realise it’s not going to solve the problem in one hit, but we have to be grateful and we have to be delighted to be working towards solutions as government and sector working together.”
Neither she nor WA Council of Social Service President Louise Giolitto criticised the lack of a timeline for the builds.
“We understand at the moment there’s a real issue with supply, labour and materials,” Ms Giolitto said.
“[But] we need these houses built as soon as possible.”
The expansion of the supported landlord model, which helps place people sleeping rough into homes with wrap-around support, was also welcomed.
Announcement ‘ticks the box’, says REIWA
The housing sector was also positive about the news.
“Investment property owners have been exiting the WA market in droves, with nearly 20,000 fewer rentals available in WA now than January 2021, and we know that a shortage of private rentals always puts enormous pressure on social housing, so these budget initiatives are a welcome move,” Real Estate Institute of WA CEO Cath Hart said in a statement.
“Given the state of the market, the only criteria for housing policy at the moment is quite simply, does it increase or decrease the number of houses to build, buy or rent?
“Today’s announcement ticks the box in terms of increasing housing supply and we hope will help put a roof over the heads of the most vulnerable Western Australians.”
The Housing Industry Association also supported the investment, saying housing supply remained the key challenge for WA’s housing sector.
Opposition brands move a ‘waste of time’
The opposition’s housing spokesperson, Steve Martin, said throwing more money into social housing when the sums already allocated had not been spent was “a complete waste of time”.
“There’s no timeline because the government have failed to deliver and can’t deliver on their housing promises,” he said.
“There are already hundreds of millions of dollars in that program. They can’t spend that and they’re topping it up.”
“This is a budget distraction. They [the government] know there is a housing crisis. They are desperately keen to be seen to be doing something without actually doing something.”
Mr Martin said while the money for repairing damaged homes was welcome, there needed to be a greater investment in regional areas.
Rent increases could be restricted
New analysis released by Anglicare last week painted a grim picture of rental affordability in Australia.
The community service organisation’s latest annual snapshot found there were no rentals in the country considered affordable for a single person on the federal government’s youth allowance payment, and just four properties suitable for singles receiving JobSeeker.
After national cabinet last week agreed to strengthen renters’ rights across the country, the premier flagged WA could look at restricting rent increases to only once a year, as Queensland has done.
He said a review into rental reforms was expected to be handed to the government shortly.
“It’s a balancing act,” Mr McGowan said.
“What we don’t want is landlords to pull properties off the market.
“We need properties to stay in the market and hopefully encourage more, whilst at the same time resolving some of those issues that renters are going through.”
WACOSS’s Ms Giolitto said while limiting rent increases to once a year was a good start, more changes were needed.
“We need to remove no fault evictions from our tenancy laws like they have done in many other states,” she said.
“We know that evidence supports us that we won’t lost houses out of the market.”
Bid to bolster construction workforce
The half-a-billion dollar budget investment comes after the government announced an almost $48 million package over the weekend to boost the state’s building and construction workforce.
The package will see $11 million assigned to attracting skilled migrant workers with visa subsidies and a temporary relaxation of the migration criteria.
WA Liberal leader Libby Mettam criticised the move, pointing out the current government changed the skilled migration list six years ago.
But Training Minister Simone McGurk said changes to the migration criteria were necessary depending on what was required at the time.
The state government previously announced an $875 million allocation towards social housing in the 2021-22 budget.
As part of that commitment, $750 million was also assigned for new social homes, with the remaining $228 million to go towards short-term projects.
The federal budget, due to be handed down next week, is also aiming to alleviate some of the pressure from the housing crisis.
Its signature items include greater tax concessions for property developers, which the government says will encourage them to build more affordable housing.
But the Greens have called for direct investments in community housing rather than incentives for developers.