Congratulations to the Queensland Government on their Housing Strategy 2017–2027. The signature commitment to provide over 5000 new public and affordable housing places will stem the decline of this important housing service. Although commentators, like me, want much more after the last decade of neglect, we should be grateful for this significant turn-around in housing policy.
The vision that “every Queenslander has access to a safe, secure and affordable home that meets their needs and enables participation in the social and economic life of our prosperous state” is certainly an advance on the previous State Government’s underwhelming plan to deliver “a flexible, efficient and responsive housing assistance system for Queensland’s future”. It suggests that even the most vulnerable of Queenslanders might get a fair go at finding and keeping a place to call home.
Little can happen for people without secure, affordable and appropriate housing. Minister de Brenni acknowledges that housing is “a key foundation for social and economic development” and “an essential social service”. It is squarely in the hands of the Queensland Government to ensure that this Strategy helps rather than hurts people. It now needs to commit to excellence.
The Queensland Government has been variable in its commitment to excellence in housing provision in the past. It has produced public housing that is world-class and it has also built hell-holes which make people’s lives worse. It has been difficult for the Government to maintain a constant standard of service and to hold onto accumulated wisdom when politicians go hot and cold on the importance of housing. A commitment to excellence encourages Government services to reflect on what has worked in the past and what should be forgotten before the mistakes are repeated.
For households that include people with disability, this is a critical issue. People with disability are among the most vulnerable people in Queensland and are more likely to experience unemployment, exclusion, poverty and violence. Their homes have greater impact on their lives as they often spend more time there and the design, cost and location directly affect their support, mobility, safety and independence. When things go wrong, the consequences are often dire.
Households that include people with disability are currently over-represented in social housing, (they self-identify in four out of ten tenancies) because affordable and accessible alternatives are simply not available. If the Queensland Government can get their housing assistance right for people with disability they will get it right for others. The excellent contribution by Queenslanders with Disability Network, Going for Gold, to the Strategy offers sound advice. It also highlights some omissions.
The Strategy commits to construct 50% of public housing dwellings to the Livable Housing Design Guidelines Gold Level or Platinum Level standards to increase accessibility and adaptability, yet previously in 2011, COAG endorsed a commitment within the National Disability Strategy to provide 100% by 2019. The reason for this is simple — to modify a dwelling costs 19 times more after construction than it does to include the same features in the design. We have also yet to see whether the 20-year campaign by people with disability, older people and women for minimum access features in all housing construction, also endorsed by COAG, will finally be honoured in the review of Queensland’s building and planning legislation.
Shared equity programs have been successful in Western Australia and South Australia for many years, alleviating pressure on rental programs and offering people on low to middle incomes a chance to buy their own home. QDN identifies this as a priority for Queensland, yet the Strategy does no more than refurbish the limited rent-to-buy scheme for public tenants.