Chapter 9 of the Final Report of the Victorian Commission into Family Violence is dedicated to the issue of housing.
Titled ‘A safe home’, this Chapter starts with the following premise; “Access to safe, stable and affordable housing is vital for women and children who have experienced family violence.”
This analysis of the Chapter is from the perspective of public housing. It does not constitute a full analysis of the Chapter, nor is it an analysis of the 2,000 page Report.
The Commission pointed to data showing the clear link between family violence and homelessness. “5688 people came to homelessness services in Victoria in need of short-term or emergency accommodation in 2014–15 because of family violence. Of this number, 1104 people (19.4 per cent) did not have this need met.”
The Commission then looks at crisis accommodation, such as refuges. “Refuges were established as a short-term option for supporting women and children during the immediate crisis period. The model is based on the premise of a woman staying in a refuge for about six weeks, then moving on to transitional housing for an interim period of up to 12 months, and then going to long-term accommodation such as public housing or private rental.”
In essence, it was concluded that the current system doesn’t work, with people spending too long in crisis accommodation and transitional housing because there was limited access to public housing and other affordable options. One domestic violence service told the Commission; “Public housing is often not a viable option due to the extensive waiting list, even for priority housing. It is common for women to wait 8–15 months (or longer for women with many children, or special needs) for priority public housing.”
The Commission also stated that the supply of transitional housing has decreased from 3,703 in June 2010 to 3,571 properties as at September 2015. Further, people are staying in these properties for longer with 4.3% of tenants staying for more than five years. One service provider told the Commission; “We will often have clients living in transitional housing for anywhere between 12 months and two years: the movement through these properties can be slow. We are finding that our clients get stuck in those properties, waiting for public housing or a suitable alternative.”
Further data showed the decline in the number of public housing homes from 65,244 in 2006/6 to 64,886 in 2013/14. The Victorian Government advised the Commission that it expects a net reduction of 84 social housing properties in 2015–16.
The theme of a housing ‘bottleneck’ was amplified by the evidence of the Director for Housing, who stated; “The number of allocations to public housing has declined over the last decade due to fewer vacancies being available as tenants are staying in properties longer. For example, in 1999–00, 11,051 new households were allocated public housing. In 2004–05, 8,125 households were allocated public housing. In 2013–14, this number was 5,715 allocations, representing a decline of almost 30 per cent since 2004–05.”
The Commission reflected that “Submissions and consultations showed strong support for a substantial expansion of social housing in view of the scale of the current blockages in the system and the associated consequences for women who have experienced family violence. The submission from the Council to Homeless Persons, which was endorsed by 128 other organisations [including the VPTA], called for the establishment of an affordable housing growth fund of $200 million a year.”
The Commission also dealt with family violence being experienced by current public housing tenants, highlighting problems that tenants can experience with transfers, charges for damage caused by abusive partners and extended absences from the property.
In terms of the recommendations, recommendation 17 seeks the expansion of packages that would assist families to access the private rental market. The Commission concluded that; “Compared with social housing, the private rental market can offer greater locational choice and flexibility in meeting the needs of family violence victims. Social housing is generally offered in areas where there is a vacancy, rather than where a woman needs to live. In addition, only 3.1 per cent of households in Victoria live in social housing.418 Excessive demand, a low turnover of tenants, and a stock profile not well matched to demand mean that such housing struggles to be responsive to the needs of the wide range of women having to move from their home as a result of family violence.”
In a section headed ‘Ending the crisis’ the Commission concludes; “It is clear that the existing system of providing housing assistance to family violence victims is not working as intended. The system has become ‘blocked’, with bottlenecks forming at the point of entry into crisis accommodation, transitional housing and social housing. As a result, people end up staying in motels or refuges for extended periods, often for much longer than the stated limit of six weeks in a refuge. Transitional housing as a post-refuge destination is no longer a realistic option for many women in crisis accommodation. For those that do obtain transitional housing, their stay can also be extended long past the official period. In some cases, women have lived in ‘transitional’ housing for five years. These circumstances are exacerbating the harm caused by family violence and are undermining other efforts within the service system to help victims recover. For many, effective housing assistance is the foundation for the effectiveness of other services available to them.”
It then recommends a housing blitz.
The Victorian Government give priority to removing current blockages in refuge and crisis accommodation and transitional housing, so that victims of family violence can gain stable housing as quickly as possible and with a minimum number of relocations, are not accommodated in motels and other ad hoc accommodation, and spend on average no longer than six weeks in refuge and crisis accommodation [within two years].
The Victorian Government establish a Family Violence Housing Assistance Implementation Task Force consisting of senior representatives from the public and commercial housing sectors and family violence specialists [within 12 months]. The task force, which should report through the Minister for Housing to the Cabinet Family Violence Sub-committee, should:
- oversee a process designed to remove blockages in access to family violence crisis accommodation by rapidly rehousing family violence victims living in crisis and transitional accommodation
- design, oversee and monitor the first 18-month phase of the proposed expanded Family Violence Flexible Support Packages (including rental subsidies)
- quantify the number of additional social housing units required for family violence victims who are unable to gain access to and sustain private rental accommodation subject to evaluation of the proposed expanded Family Violence Flexible Support Packages,
- plan for the statewide roll-out of the packages (including rental subsidies) and the social housing required.
The Victorian Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing report annually to the Parliamentary Committee on Family Violence [within two years] on:
- the extent of unmet housing demand among people affected by family violence—including the average and range of current stays by women and children in crisis and transitional accommodation
- progress in meeting the benchmark of six weeks in crisis accommodation
- proposed actions for meeting the continuing housing demand from people affected by family violence.