State partners with charities

15/04/2009 - 22:00


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WITH the waiting list for public housing now at 20,000, the state government is seeking community agencies, industry groups and not-for-profit organisations to help alleviate the acute shortage of affordable housing in Western Australia.

State partners with charities

WITH the waiting list for public housing now at 20,000, the state government is seeking community agencies, industry groups and not-for-profit organisations to help alleviate the acute shortage of affordable housing in Western Australia.

In the past decade, the state and federal governments have looked to charities to build, manage and maintain social and community dwellings, taking advantage of their tax-free status and capacity to leverage against their assets.

The Community Housing Coalition of WA - the peak body representing and servicing non-government community housing organisations in the state - has welcomed calls to entice charities to build cheap homes.

CHCWA executive officer Colin McClughan said despite government efforts to assist families in financial stress in regards to mortgage payments, angst remained for those in the rental market where costs remained high.

"All the agencies at the moment are all being inundated to try and meet their day-to-day needs," he said.

"Housing is one of those major needs and if people lose their jobs and then their private accommodation, it's very difficult to keep that even though government is talking about putting a moratorium on payment for mortgages, but it doesn't happen for rentals.

"People then really become at the mercy of community housing or the public system."

Mr McClughan commended the state government's push to review WA's shortage of public housing and to generate strategies to address the problem.

In WA, Foundation Housing, Southern Cross Community Care, Amana Living, The Bethanie Group and Access Housing are among the not-for-profit organisations to enter the affordable housing market.

Foundation Housing has emerged as one of the largest players in WA, with almost 1,000 households in management and development across Perth and regional WA.

The organisation provides a comprehensive housing service, forging government joint ventures as well as public and private sector partnerships.

Foundation Housing manager of tenancy services and community development, Fiona Callan, said the community housing sector had evolved during the past decade.

"Originally, community housing existed because we met the needs that weren't generally picked up by the Department of Housing," Ms Callan said..

"Essentially, both at a state government level and across Australia, our public housing system does not work and we haven't really had a net gain of properties over the last 10 years.

"The government has a huge asset base which they can't actually use and borrow against, so it's been determined that the best way to actually grow and develop social housing and affordable housing is through the not-for-profit housing sector because of our capacity to leverage against our assets and put more into housing as well as our tax-free status.

"The reason the government is supporting the growth of the not-for-profit sector as a way to grow social and affordable housing is that ... we can put 13 houses on the ground for what it would cost government to put 10 on the ground."

Foundation Housing often enters into 30-year joint ventures with the state government, buying land and contributing equity, while the government pays for the construction.

Under the joint venture, Foundation Housing holds the title and is responsible for the tenancy and maintenance of the properties.

Fremantle-based Access Housing operates under a similar model.

Under Access Housing's joint venture, it holds title or the lease of the property and the state government holds a caveat.

Access Housing development manager Richard Sheridan said with a suite of almost 700 properties in the south metropolitan region, South West and Peel regions, the organisation covered the largest area of affordable housing in WA.

"Because we're building and we're investing with the government, we're putting a huge amount of money into the economy when it needs it, so we along with other providers in WA, are the focal point for the federal government's stimulus package of $623 million dollars," he said.

Housing and Works Minister Troy Buswell has created a taskforce to report by June 30 on new ways to provide 20,000 social dwellings by 2020.

Under the federal government's $42 billion stimulus package, $6.4 billion will be given to the community housing sector to roll out the new homes.

"At the moment it's very difficult, you can't just whip up 20,000 houses immediately but I think with the stimulus package, the federal and state governments have been attempting to bring about a quick or even a remedial solution to building 2,700 or so houses in the next 18 months, so that's going to help," Mr McClughan said.

"It's a significant amount of money but it's still not enough at this stage unfortunately. Everything's going to help it's just a question about the enormity of the problem."


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