On 31 May 2017 the Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing, Martin Foley appeared before the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee of the Victorian Parliament. Some of the more interesting and relevant parts of the transcript are included below, and the full transcript can be accessed on the Parliament’s website.
Danny Pearson – Labor – Essendon
There is $185 million in funding to transform some of the more run-down public housing estates. Can you outline to the committee how those public moneys will be expended across the forward estimates, Minister?
Minister Foley – They are more than run-down, frankly. Far too many of them, particularly the concrete places, have well and truly expired in terms of their use-by date for what constitutes affordable, safe housing in 2017. They essentially condemn people to lifetimes of housing poverty in their current state. We know that the time for more social housing is upon us. We know that a number of tenants in these estates that are facing this renewal program support them. These estates are disproportionately reflective of the number of people who want to transfer out of them, and overwhelmingly the reason is the physical side of those properties. Those requests for transfers are well above the state average for these particular estates, even though they are all well placed in regard to location, services, education, jobs and other things. It is also about breaking down the barriers — the stigma — that sometimes goes with living in some of these public housing estates, where tenants are seen as separate from and distinct from the surrounding community. We want to give that kid growing up in a public housing estate the same rights, aspirations and diversity of choice and lived experience through making sure that we bring together both public and private housing and start to blend and break down the barriers that we see too many of, particularly as our public housing estates are seen as separate places from the communities they are part of.
Danny Pearson – ALP – Essendon
Can you inform the committee briefly about the way in which you will manage the tenants during the course of that redevelopment?
Minister Foley – Absolutely. There has been some unfortunate scaremongering in this space. Let me be clear: if you are a public housing tenant and you are required to be relocated during the course of the building works that will be occurring on those estates, you will have the right to move back to that community. There has been some very unhelpful and, I would say, malicious misrepresenting of that position. There is nothing to misrepresent. Our public housing tenants overwhelmingly are good, decent people. They pay their rent, and provided they continue to pay their rent and be good, decent people, just like any other person covered by the Residential Tenancies Act, they have a right to live in their communities. Whilst we rebuild these places we will clearly be relocating people, but they have a right to return.
Louise Staley – Liberal – Ripon
Thank you, Minister. I might move to the transfer of management responsibility of 4000 public housing dwellings to community housing. Minister, how have the 4000 dwellings been selected and how will tenants be consulted?
Minister Foley – The commitment to transfer management leases — and I stress management leases rather than title — is a commitment that we make with a view that there are a range of factors driving that, not least that the commonwealth have foreshadowed that as a condition for the commonwealth investing under their proposed new national affordable housing and homelessness agreement, the terms of which we are yet to see, they will make a precondition that eight state agencies need to be in a position to transfer management of, as yet to be specified from their point of view, estates or units into social housing providers.[Ms Staley returned to the question later in the Hearing. We reproduce the exchange unedited.]
Ms STALEY — Okay. I will turn to budget paper 3, page 20, the housing transfers and the transfer of the management responsibility for public housing. How will tenants be consulted?
Mr FOLEY — Thank you for that question. As I touched on earlier, as part of the process for renewal and investment in our social and public housing sector, one component of this is how do we bring in whether it is the federal yet-to-be-detailed component of what contribution the commonwealth might make under its new national affordable housing and homelessness agreement — —
Ms STALEY — Minister, if I could just bring you back to how they will be consulted? I understand the structure of the program.
Mr FOLEY — Well, that is good because the commonwealth has not shared that structure with us yet.
Ms STALEY — Well, I understand it is shared. Could we go to how they will be consulted? Mr FOLEY — If you could share that with us, that would be a great advancement. So until such time as we get for that component of the proposition — together with the current request that we have got out into our social housing providers and potential private sector partners as well as our own investment in this space at the moment — the response that we expect back over the coming months, the first question is to identify the communities that we are discussing in regard to this, whether it is existing properties or whether it is the new properties that might come on. Those are the first policy issues that will be determined. Whether it is in fact the new properties, and of course there might be issues there around making sure that we consult with surrounding neighbours and surrounding private sector partners — —
Ms STALEY — Minister, I am asking about the tenants in the 4000 public housing dwellings that are being moved to community housing. So they are the current public housing tenants — not surrounding suburbs, not people on the waiting list — people who are currently in homes that are being transferred from your department’s responsibility to community housing.
Mr FOLEY — They will still be my department’s responsibility in terms of partnering with those social housing providers, because the asset will continue to be a director of housing asset and will still be a Victorian government asset. It will be leased to those providers.
Ms STALEY — So they will be your tenants, so you can presumably tell me how you will consult them.
Mr FOLEY — No, but they will not be director’s tenants. The lease will be managed by social and community housing providers. In terms of what I was trying to explain earlier in terms of the 4000 figure, that may be broken up in a range of different ways depending on a range of variables. The first of those variables is what conditions the commonwealth may or may not set in their funding partnership arrangements, so we are yet to establish from the commonwealth what that is. The second of those will be what will be the area in which these 4000 targets will be applied. Will it be new social housing units that, by definition, do not have tenants in them as yet, or will it be existing properties that we seek through estate renewals or other programs through the current Registration of Capability and partnerships with local government and other providers that we have got out for expressions of interest at the moment — whether it will be those estates? Once those — —
Ms STALEY — Minister, I think — —
Mr FOLEY — If you bear with me, I will get to your answer.
Ms STALEY — I am sorry. I think I have made it quite clear that I just want to ask about the people who are currently in housing that are being proposed to move from the current structure to community housing agencies.
Mr FOLEY — Yes.
Ms STALEY — And I am asking how those people will be consulted.
Mr FOLEY — I am in the process of setting the context as to why this is not a straightforward matter.
Ms STALEY — There is a lot of context going on.
Mr FOLEY — After the identification of new dwellings, if we get a response back in terms of our investment programs — the multi-provider investment programs in this space — and if we get responses that meet the criteria that we have set there for existing estates as part of the renewal of those estates, we will then consult with those tenants as to the arrangements that we are proposing to make, and with that, with the nominated social and community housing providers, point to what we would expect to be the substantial improvements in assistance and support.
Ms STALEY — How will they be consulted with, Minister?
Mr FOLEY — So in short, after those first couple of hurdles have been got over, we have yet to identify which of those particular communities might make up the rest of those agencies. And when we do — —
Ms STALEY — So you are saying you do not know how you are going to consult with them.
Mr FOLEY — We will go through a process of consulting with those communities, as you would expect
Ms STALEY — Will tenants then have the right of refusal if they do not wish for the management rights of their residence to be transferred?
Mr FOLEY — As indicated, of course once we get through that process, we would imagine that those discussions with tenants would be the first step rather than after the discussion with other social housing providers. In that context let us be clear: part of the reason that the commonwealth in particular are very interested in making sure that this is a part of the proposed national affordable housing and homelessness agreement goes to how services are delivered. The director of housing is the landlord for 165 000 people, and his tenants — that is, our tenants — do not attract commonwealth rental assistance, the single biggest contributor that the commonwealth makes to housing affordability across the board. That is not the case when it comes to social housing providers. Social housing organisations do attract the commonwealth rental assistance. How that gets packaged into an arrangement that makes sure that nobody is financially worse off is an important part of the equation. Wrapping around it is the contribution to what new investments are being made in housing, what new investments are being made in services and what new investments are being made in the package of supports to engage the wider community through education, through employment and through training. They are all part of the mix, and each of those will vary, depending on the community and the estate that we are talking about. Until such time as all of those preconditions are met, it would be presumptuous of me to predict what the views of a public tenant might be. Because at the moment those public tenants are faced with a view that as good a landlord as he is, the director of housing does not invest perhaps as much as we would like — that is, not much at all — in that wider set of services that we know our social housing partner providers can bring to that equation.
Fiona Patten – Sex Party – Northern Metropolitan
I was looking at the increase in supply of affordable housing, and particularly — as I am sure you are aware, Minister — I have interest in the quality relocatable housing on banked land and the pilot program you are running with Launch Housing. I am proud to say that that has been a Sex Party policy for a number of years, so it is really nice to see, I think, this innovative approach. One of the issues that has come up with that is that the residents have now taken out a VCAT application opposing that program, so I am wondering if there are any planning changes?
Minister Foley – The immediate program that you referred to at the beginning of your question, we too are very proud of that program, and I thank the City of Maribyrnong, who unanimously at a local government level supported that program, and I thank Launch Housing and VicRoads for putting together, with philanthropic support as well as state support, the funding needed for that. That has formed part of the pathways for rough sleepers that we have not just in central city areas but across the wider state to make sure that there are pathways — even, if necessary, temporarily — to ground people. You are quite right, residents in that immediate area in Maribyrnong have decided to use their democratic opportunity to oppose that. We are very disappointed with that, but we remain confident, as does the City of Maribyrnong, that that program will not face further unnecessary delays and start to house homeless people who continue as we enter winter to live in totally unacceptable circumstances.
Fiona Patten – Sex Party – Northern Metropolitan
Thank you, Chair. Minister, I wanted to just explore homelessness and where we think it is going. We are seeing, all of us — and certainly your media releases are expressing the fact — that homelessness is growing in Victoria. I am just wondering if you have got a trend on where homelessness is going over the next five years. What sort of trend and what are we looking at in five years time, and how do you assess that? How do you work that out?
Minister Foley – We know that the trend that we are on is not good. We know through the censuses that frontline agencies take on a periodic basis, not just in central Melbourne but more widely, that we have seen since 2012 rough sleeping alone double. We know that rough sleeping is but, if you like, the canary in the coalmine. We know that hidden behind that — in couch surfing, in cars, in unstable accommodation right across the state — there are growing numbers of people in housing stress and crisis. We know that the data that we will shortly see from last year’s census will further indicate, from the previous census — we are expecting on the best advice that we have got from AHURI, which is the state and commonwealth’s, if you like, key advice agency in this respect — that we could almost expect to see homelessness as defined double between that last census and this. At the same time we know that all the drivers of homelessness are heading in the wrong direction, whether that is housing affordability, whether that is the number of private sector rental properties that are available to people on fixed commonwealth benefits — those most at risk. We know that that is a big issue. We know also that commonwealth policy drivers in this space are further adding to that level of crisis. As recently as this week we have made it clear to the commonwealth that Victoria is not interested in partnering with the commonwealth in any program that sees commonwealth benefits linked to drug and alcohol testing. If they want to trial that populist stunt, they can do it somewhere else, because all that will do is drive already vulnerable people into even further crisis.
Steve Dimopoulos – Labor – Oakleigh
I am very interested in headleasing. I think it is an innovative proposal. The investment is $2 million, from memory, to expand the headleasing program. I just want to get a sense from you, if you could elaborate a bit more, of what that actually means — the expansion but also the initial program itself. I have got another question that is unrelated to that, but I was just really interested to ask about that.
Minister Foley – The truth of the matter is that Victoria has, as a proportion, a lower level than most jurisdictions of social and public housing. So we need to make that up by building more public housing, and we are proud of that component of this budget package, but in dealing with the here and now we need to provide roofs over people’s heads, and the first iteration of this that we launched last March, March 2016, was more successful than we could have thought. When we put out to social housing providers — what we called then the housing blitz — our package of incentives, direct funding of services and investments, we received over 30 per cent more units into that system than we expected when we went to our social housing providers in that respect, and that was with a targeted response for women fleeing family violence. That is actually probably even a better outcome than securing them in the available public or social housing, because what it does is it secures them in their own community disproportionately quickly so they do not break the links to that community. Their kids stay at school.