Since being elected to State Parliament in 2018 I’ve watched with growing concern and frustration as housing has become increasingly out of reach for thousands of Tasmanians.
With soaring house prices and rents and far too many people struggling to keep a roof over their heads, one of the biggest frustrations has been hearing the constant refrain from the Liberal government that they are delivering the help and support that’s needed.
Any of the approximately 4500 people on the social housing waitlist or the thousands of others facing private rental stress would know how hollow those words are.
CoreLogic’s July Quarterly Rental Review has reaffirmed the extreme financial pressure Tasmanian renters are under, with Hobart renters now paying a median rent of $549 – a rise of almost $50 a week over the past year.
Similar pressure is being felt right around the state with increasing numbers of private renters struggling to pay their rent and many going without the basics to do so.
These are the people having to choose between heating and eating – or between medical supplies, fuel or other essentials.
For far too many, even cutting out the basics is not enough to afford private rent, putting even more pressure on the social housing waitlist.
And given that the average wait for social housing has more than tripled under the Liberals – from 21 weeks to 68 weeks – this too often means Tasmanians are slipping into homelessness, sleeping rough, couch surfing with friends, or trying to get into a shelter.
But shelter turn-away figures are also growing steadily, with people turned away nearly 20,000 times last year – up from 15,000 times the year before and 14,000 the year before that.
The simple truth is that if the government was delivering what it’s promised, this crisis would be improving rather than getting worse.
Like his predecessors, the new Housing Minister Guy Barnett is big on announcements – or re-announcements. But announcements don’t put a roof over the heads of our most vulnerable and it doesn’t matter how big a promise is if it remains undelivered.
This crisis was created by Liberal Party policies and it is not going to be fixed by an endless game of catch-up.
Since coming to office, the Liberals have built just 1200 new social housing properties, or about 150 a year, which is not nearly enough to address the problem.
Had they simply kept pace with the rate of building under the previous Labor Government, there would be around 3000 fewer families on the wait list today.
So, with private rents already through the roof, shelters full, social housing waiting list numbers rising steadily and more and more people unable to find the emergency shelter they need, what can be done?
The fact is, the solutions have been there for some time, but have been ignored, dismissed and even ridiculed by this weak and uncaring government.
After calling an “emergency summit” with community sector housing providers in 2018 nothing tangible emerged.
The new Minister recently called another roundtable with the sector but, again, nothing will change unless he listens to the experts and takes their solutions and suggestions seriously.
A full Parliamentary Inquiry into housing by Labor in 2020 also came up with hundreds of recommendations on how to improve the system, only for the then-Minister Roger Jaensch to dismiss those who’d made submissions and ignore the recommendations.
For real change to occur, we need action on recommendations that have been made, especially when they have come from the housing sector and people with lived experience of homelessness. After all, they are the ones who know the system best and know where urgent improvements are needed.
Labor has long called for better regulation of Tasmania’s short-stay accommodation market and a statewide pause on any new ‘whole home’ short-stay permits.
A recent report by Shelter Tasmania has reinforced the impact of the state’s high proportion of short-term accommodation on the long-term private rental market.
We also call for a full review of the Residential Tenancy Act to ensure it is fit for purpose in today’s environment, and we need real planning reform to reduce the stumbling blocks to supply.
This government has had almost 10 years to do something meaningful on housing and continually promising 10,000 homes in 10 years with little to show for it is just not good enough.
Tasmanians in need simply can’t wait that long and this government has a responsibility to stop talking and start acting and deliver the help it has promised and that Tasmanians so desperately need.
Ella Haddad is the Shadow Housing Minister
this article was originally published August 2, 2022