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Homeless people stuck in ‘unsuitable, sometimes dangerous’ accommodation

It says the government should consider specific incentives for developers to ensure the costs of other dwellings in the development were not increased.

Craig Farrell was homeless for about 10 years, sleeping rough outside the City Library or in overnight hostels. He said when he was first homeless he spent six months in crisis accommodation.

Homeless people outside Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station in 2016

Homeless people outside Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station in 2016Credit:Eddie Jim

“There was always lots of drugs going on and people up all night screaming and fighting. You couldn’t leave your stuff sitting around, it would get stolen, they can be not very nice places.”

Mr Farrell is now living in social housing after the newly appointed social worker at the City Library helped find him accommodation.

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He said he supported anything – including inclusionary zoning – that would provide more housing for the homeless.

“That’s the main problem, there is not enough housing for the people waiting on it. The government pumps all this money into programs that are just like Band Aids, they are just to get you by when you’re on the street, not actually get you off the street.”

A government spokesperson said: “We thank the committee for their report and will consider inclusionary zoning and other recommendations as part of our ongoing work to ensure more Victorians have the safety and security of a home.

“Our $5.3 billion Big Housing Build will deliver more than 12,000 new homes and create 10,000 jobs every year over the next four years.”

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Victorian executive director of the Property Council of Australia, Danni Hunter, said modelling showed inclusionary zoning effectively acted as a tax which pushed up the price of other dwellings in the development.

“There are ways in which government and the private property industry can work together to deliver social and affordable housing that don’t involve mandatory inclusionary zoning,” Ms Hunter said.

“The property industry shouldn’t solely be responsible for solving this broader social issue. To play a meaningful role in delivering solutions, more can be done to incentivise and enable the private sector to provide affordable housing: for example, through upzoning, land tax relief or fast-tracked planning approvals.”

Associate Professor Joe Hurley from RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research said there was a role for public and planning policy to look at inequalities around access to housing. “Inclusionary zoning is one public policy mechanism that can be deployed to address that inequality.”

The inquiry’s report said despite the unprecedented size of the government’s social housing building program, this would still not ensure Victoria would meet the national average of 4.5 per cent social housing as a percentage of total dwellings.

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. 

“In addition, it remains to be seen what proportion of the over 80,000 individuals on the Victorian Housing Register will be housed in the new dwellings,” the report said.

In 2019-2020, Victoria’s social housing stock accounted for 3.4 per cent of all housing – the lowest in Australia.

“For Victoria to reach the national social housing average, it would need to build up to 3400 new social housing dwellings per year until 2036,” the report said.

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According to the report, the median period someone remains homeless in Australia is 4½ months, but it lasts more than a year in about 20 per cent of cases.

People under 35 are the largest age group of people experiencing homelessness in Victoria, although older women were a fast-growing cohort.

Family violence was the main reason individuals accessing homelessness services sought assistance in Victoria.

The inquiry also recommended the government set up innovative housing models, such as pop-up housing in underutilised buildings, transportable housing and the use of surplus government land (through leases or sale), to create social housing.

It said the government should provide funding for an increase in crisis accommodation, including in Melbourne’s growth areas and parts of regional Victoria where crisis accommodation was currently lacking.

This would limit the number of people in need of crisis accommodation being put into unsuitable hotels, motels and caravan parks.

The inquiry said measures put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic saw many people previously sleeping rough placed in emergency accommodation, such as hotels, with plans for this to transition into long-term housing.

“This event showed that with sufficient will on the part of the Victorian government, it is possible to end homelessness for many people experiencing it. Whether that will remain the case is yet to be seen.”

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Bevan Warner, chief executive of homelessness organisation Launch Housing, hoped the State Government adopted all the recommendations because they could end homelessness in Victoria.

“The sector is overwhelmed, we can’t meet demand, there are people on the street tonight both in the inner city and scattered around the outer suburbs who are wondering where they will sleep tonight,” Mr Warner said.

“More and better crisis services are desperately needed, and that funding needs to flow through quickly as the report recommends.”

The Council to Homeless Persons particularly welcomed the recommendation to include the right to housing in the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, and for new mechanisms to deliver more social housing like inclusionary zoning, and priority use of surplus Government land, as well as ongoing direct investment by Government.

“If people experiencing homelessness can be rapidly helped to move into long term housing that they can afford, then we will fix the current bottleneck of people in refuges and crisis accommodation,” said CEO Jenny Smith.

Opposition housing spokesman Tim Smith said investing in social housing was the right route to take after successive governments had failed to spend enough for the better part of two decades.

But he did not like the idea of inclusionary zoning: “Are we now going to essentially make one of Victoria’s most important sectors less competitive because the government hasn’t done it’s job in the first place? I think the government’s got its priorities wrong if it’s going to go down that path.”

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