Design principles key in community housing reform

Design principles key in community housing reform
Design principles key in community housing reform

Evolve Housing, a not-for-profit community housing provider and a manager of state owned social housing, addressed some key design principles for reform in the submission to the Inquiry into Home Ownership by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics.

These key principles are as follows:

  • The provision of integrated, person-centred supports and incentives
  • Directing policies and programs to the full housing continuum - including the expansion of affordable housing stock
  • Increasing the community housing asset base through property transfers
  • Investing to expand affordable housing
  • Partnering with developers
  • Focus at state and local government levels on increasing the supply and sustainability of affordable housing

Evolve Housing explained in the submission that the people assisted by community housing providers have many other needs as a result of various forms of disadvantages. Lack of English language skills, lack of training and qualifications, and limitations imposed by disabilities are some of the reasons that increase the obstacle of affordable housing

"We urge the government to adopt two overarching design principles for housing reform. Enshrine the policy principle of offering housing assistance within a “Continuum of Housing” model and progressively update assistance options to facilitate the progress of residents, where applicable and appropriate, from income-linked social housing to Affordable Housing and then through to shared ownership and full home ownership. 

"Place particular emphasis on the policies, programs and funding incentives which act as supports and assistance for people on the pathway to housing independence and the associated social inclusion."

The community housing provider went on to address the suggested design principles for reform.

"The government must place immediate priority on funding and delivery models that will provide additional Affordable Housing stock, consistent with the proposed policy principle of offering housing assistance within a “Continuum of Housing” model and bridging the gap between income-linked social housing and the private rental market. 

"We also support proposals for investigating new sources of development. These include categorising Affordable and Social Housing as infrastructure and providing access to NSW Government Waratah Bonds for developing new supply, and investigating the potential use of Social Benefit Bonds or Housing Supply Bonds, and Social Impact Investment strategies, which have been used successfully elsewhere.  

"The government to ensure fair and responsible use of social housing across all of the states and territories and to assist transitions to affordable housing through the following actions:

"Review existing rent-setting arrangements for social housing to provide a clearer incentive to employment and to ensure that tenants are not materially disadvantaged if they move to Affordable Housing or private rental, or take up a job. 

"Seek an Australian Government review of arrangements that allow social housing tenants receiving benefits to cancel Centrelink rent deductions at any time. 

"Where a tenant’s rent is automatically deducted from their Centrelink benefits or Commonwealth Rent Assistance, the consent of their housing provider be required before the payment is reduced or cancelled (on the basis that such consent cannot be unreasonably withheld). 

"Implement a grace period for applicants on the social housing waiting list (or previous social housing tenants) who accept tenancy of an affordable property, allowing them to return to social housing within that grace period in specified circumstances. 

"Allow housing providers to require tenants and potential tenants to disclose personal financial information, such as taxation records, bank balances and visa information, where a housing provider reasonably believes it is necessary to ascertain the eligibility of the tenant for a housing benefit. In the event that tenants exceed eligible income thresholds or refuse to disclose the relevant information, a housing provider should be entitled to evict. 

"The imbalances between social housing and Affordable Housing include much greater security of tenure in social housing, incompatible arrangements for setting rent charges, and a lack of flexibility in Affordable Housing to assist tenants whose incomes rise or fall significantly. 

"The turnover of social housing is lower than it could be because some clients, who could afford to move out of social housing, do not do so.

"These challenges mean that people who need social housing miss out because accommodation is being tenanted by persons who do not in fact meet eligibility criteria. 

"Evolve Housing estimates that the above changes would have immediate impact and, based on our anecdotal experience, could lead to more than 10 per cent of existing social housing residents moving into other forms of housing."

Encouraging state governments to transfer larger scale existing public housing stock from the government and public sector to Community Housing Providers (CHP), is also suggested by Evolve Housing.

"Invest in expanding the portfolio of available Affordable Housing stock, including through innovative investment models and strong partnerships 

"Community Housing Providers to partner with developers to incorporate social and affordable housing into new mixed tenure developments. 

"Government to mandate livable housing design principles, from Living Housing Australia (LHA), in all new homes built by 2018. 

"We urge the government to work with state government to identify the areas where local government is able to strengthen the supply and sustainability of housing.

"Priority to be given to inclusion of affordable housing strategies in planning instruments, the potential for inclusionary zoning, use of developer contributions to fund affordable housing, and incentives to subsidise the yield gap between affordable and private market. 

Evolve housing has almost 4,300 social and affordable properties owned or under management, the experience from managing those led it to believe that the solution to easing the crisis to long-term sustainable housing is reform at individual, organizational and governmental levels.

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