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Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Illawarra Community Housing Trust 25th Anniversary Luncheon, Wollongong

Location: Wollongong

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Introduction

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here today.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Dhurrawal and Wadi Wadi people, and pay my respects to their Elders, both past and present.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my parliamentary colleagues Sharon Bird and Jennie George, as well as Neil Reilly (Board Member, Illawarra Community Housing Trust) and the other members of the Illawarra Community Housing Trust who are here today.

Today we come together to celebrate a milestone.

The Illawarra Community Housing Trust has given 25 years of commitment, and housing, to the Illawarra community

You should be very proud of your achievements.

Your organisation has played a vital and influential role in the region’s community housing sector over the past 25 years, providing much needed support for the Illawarra’s most vulnerable citizens.

But it doesn’t stop today, and your example is a beacon in achieving the Australian Government’s ambition of growing the not-for-profit housing sector.

In 2007, community housing organisations held 34,700 properties nationally.

This compares with 340,000 held by public housing authorities.

There are about 1,000 community housing providers in Australia.

Many are relatively small and have developed excellent expertise in managing tenancies often for specific groups of clients such as people with disabilities or older people.

A few – about 11 organisations nationally – are larger not for profit organisations that are building bigger balance sheets and becoming property developers in their own right.

Another group are rapidly expanding and will catch up with the leading growth providers.

A stronger community housing sector offers a means to deliver the innovation, flexibility and commercial nous we need to transform our social housing system.

I also think it means a better deal for tenants.

Tenants in not for profit housing consistently report higher levels of satisfaction.

Not for profits are free to provide a range of housing products for low and moderate income Australians including social housing, subsidised rental homes for key workers, rent-to-buy programs and shared equity schemes.

Overseas not for profits housing associations are key players in renewing urban areas to create housing and jobs.

I want to see that level of creativity and innovation occur in social housing in Australia – and it will with stronger not for profit housing organisations playing a greater role.

After today’s celebrations, I know you will be getting on with the job of helping the vulnerable in the community.

I see my job as similar to yours.

As I see it, the Australian Government has both an economic and moral imperative to assist in building more affordable housing.

I say economic because unlike some of our international counterparts, such as the United States, there is a shortage of housing in Australia.

We’re simply not building enough houses to meet the growth in households, a growth which is coming not just from natural population increase and immigration, but from a large increase in the number of people living by themselves.

And construction is one of the biggest employers around – the construction industry accounts for about nine per cent of all jobs in Australia – nearly one million.

But the moral imperative is just as important.

It is the most vulnerable of people – the homeless, disabled, financially disadvantaged, mentally ill and families – who suffer from the shortage of affordable housing.

It is the age pensioners, the key workers, the young people who have become disengaged from their family, indigenous families – all of these groups are suffering because there are not enough houses, and in particular not enough houses at a price that is affordable for a household reliant on social security or the minimum wage.

This is where organisations like the Housing Trust come in.

I know the Trust has operated for several decades, through different economic cycles and market conditions, because there will always be a need for emergency accommodation, specialist accommodation and cheaper accommodation.

But what is new – and what I am asking of organisations like the Illawarra Housing Trust – is the extent of the need, which in turn has led to a need for new approaches to financing social housing.

Supporting services, such as the Illawarra Community Housing Trust, remain pivotal in breaking the cycle of crisis and homelessness, and providing the foundations for a positive future for disadvantaged Australians.

But what you offer over and above some other not for profit housing organisations is the ability – and the desire – to grow.

This is a critical link in the reforms I have committed to pursue in the social housing sector.

The Australian Government has committed unprecedented funds to housing programs, around $20 billion since coming into office 18 months ago.

This includes $6.4 billion to construct 20 000 new social dwellings.

But as many of you know, governments cannot meet the housing needs of all low income and disadvantaged Australians from general revenue alone. Nor is the sensible thing to do.

What we need is investment – leveraging private dollars into the construction of social housing.

I am talking about the basic proposition of having well-equipped, highly professional community housing organisations like the Illawarra Community Housing Trust, borrowing from the equity you have in land and houses to build more houses for people who need them.

Nation Building and Economic Stimulus Plan

This Government has taken significant steps to address the challenges we are facing today and tomorrow.

As I mentioned, our Nation Building and Economic Stimulus Plan has injected $6.4 billion over three and a half years to deliver an estimated 20 000 public and community housing dwellings across the country.

More than 60,000 homes will benefit from much-needed maintenance and upgrade work.

This initiative is benefitting New South Wales greatly.

NSW will receive an estimated $2 billion under the social housing component of the Nation Building Plan.

This boost in funding and housing stock is benefitting the Illawarra region, through direct construction and the positive flow on effects within the local economy.

In the Illawarra region, I have already approved almost $22 million of projects under Stage 1 of our new construction and repairs and maintenance effort.

This will build 48 new homes in the region and repair 2,435 social housing dwellings.

Homelessness

There are many Australians out there who are doing it tough and need our help.

For the 105,000 people who are homeless every night in Australia, organisations like the Illawarra Community Housing Trust are a lifeline.

I was proud to launch the White Paper on Homelessness with the Prime Minister just before Christmas.

The Road Home is the Government’s plan to reduce homelessness in Australia by 2020.

We have set specific goals to halve overall homelessness by 2020, and to provide supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it.

The White Paper will see $1.2 billion in additional funding to help homeless Australians over four years.

We also aim to significantly reduce the number of people becoming homeless in the first place, or cycling in and out of homelessness.

I know about the Illawarra Community Housing Trust’s efforts in this area of acute need, including the newly opened homeless accommodation service, Paddy’s Place.

I have read of its innovative design features that have made it a more welcoming and safe facility.

I am particularly encouraged by Jennifer Stewart (executive officer), who so thoughtfully summed up the current problems in obtaining community housing in the Illawarra.

She said:

“We get people who say, I can’t come because of my dog. We say ‘bring the dog”.

It’s people like Jennifer, who hear and respond to people’s needs.

Rental Affordability

One of the key ways to reduce homelessness is to increase the supply of affordable rental properties.

The Government is investing over $1 billion over the next four years to do that, to ensure the construction of 50,000 new rental homes by June 2012 through a new program called the National Rental Affordability Scheme.

So far, 1074 dwellings have been approved in NSW under the Scheme. 205 in the Illawarra.

These dwellings will provide more affordable rental housing for people need it, because they will be rented at 20 per cent below market value.

This means a family renting an NRAS dwelling that would be worth $300 a week in the private market would pay $240 a week instead, giving them a weekly saving of $60, which helps the family pay bills or in some cases start to make some savings.

The Illawarra Retirement Trust is one organisation operating in the region which has received approval under Round 1 of NRAS.

As part of their funding, the Trust will be providing eight one-bedroom units in a Wollongong retirement village.

These will be tenanted to people over the age of 55 and are specifically designed for improved accessibility.

Each unit will have wheelchair access and grab rails in wet areas, for instance.

The units offer tenants the stability of ‘ageing in place’ – in the home they want to stay in.

The NRAS units here in Wollongong run by the Trust are just one example of affordable rental accommodation assistance which meets the need of individual who otherwise have tremendous problems in the private market.

The Government is very clear that we need more affordable rental homes, including public and community housing.

As you can see from some of the initiatives I mentioned today, we are on track to address some of the housing supply challenges in Australia.

We clearly face many challenges, but together we can better meet the needs of more disadvantaged Australians and their communities.

Conclusion

The foundations of our success will be incorporating community housing dwellings to be part – not a feature – of the neighbourhood.

With your help, I am determined to build a system which aids the most vulnerable, but doesn’t trap them into disadvantage – a social housing system which benefits the whole community.

And with that, I want to take this opportunity again to congratulate Illawarra Community Housing Trusts on their extraordinary commitment to community and public housing over the last 25 years.

I know the people who have supported, their families and Illawarra community, thank you too.

I hope the next 25 years prove just has successful as the last.

Thank you.

ENDS