Investing in public housing will help the homeless and the economy

Governments looking to stimulate the economy aim to create jobs, boost consumer confidence, support industries, or deliver support to our most vulnerable. Sometimes, there are investments and initiatives that do all of the above.

The Andrews government’s announcement last weekend that it will invest $5.3 billion to construct more than 12,000 new homes throughout Victoria – including 8200 new social housing homes and replacing 1100 old public housing units – is a historic announcement that will not only create jobs and stimulate our economy, but one that will change thousands of lives.

Homelessness groups say COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to end rough sleeping.Credit:Pat Scala

The reality is that for some in our community, the ebb and flow of the private rental market is simply too brutal.

Social housing provides security of tenure and rent set at a level that allows people to rebuild their lives. It provides a vital safety net, and offers people the dignity, stability and opportunities they need to fully participate in their community.

At Berry Street, we know that, sadly, half of the young people who leave care when they turn 18 experience homelessness.

And we know that one of the barriers to victims escaping family violence is the lack of a safe place to go, and a fear of homelessness.

Indeed, Victoria was already facing a housing and homelessness crisis before COVID-19, which has only worsened as a result of the pandemic. Department of Health and Human Service figures show that on any given day in Victoria about 25,000 people are sleeping rough or living in emergency or unsafe accommodation.

For decades public housing in Victoria has been neglected.Credit:Penny Stephens

For decades, our public housing system has been neglected, resulting in thousands of the most disadvantaged in our community going without a roof over their head.

In making this $5.3 billion investment, the Premier, Treasurer, and Minister for Housing Richard Wynne, have again made public housing a key part of social policy.

It is a significant step that will help address Victoria’s social housing, while also supporting about10,000 jobs, to bolster the state's economic recovery. It also provides the much-needed one-off boost in housing availability and a pipeline of investment for the next decade.

This is the biggest single spend on social housing in Victoria’s history, and demonstrates the social justice credentials of the Andrews Labor government.

What’s needed now is for the federal government to match the Victorian government’s investment to truly address our homelessness and social housing needs.

Research by the Community Housing Industry Association of Victoria found more than 6000 additional homes a year are needed to meet the social housing shortfall; the Big Housing Build will provide for around 3000 homes a year. A federal government contribution would make this target a reality.

Budgets are about priorities.

Michael Perusco is the chief executive officer of Berry Street child and family services.

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