What is Public Housing?

Did you know that public housing has existed in Victoria for nearly 100 years? From slums to high-rise towers, Melbourne’s public housing holds a rich and diverse history. Want to find out more? Click here to read the Timeline of Victoria’s Public Housing.

Public housing is a type of long-term housing that is available for people to rent. Unlike private rental housing, that is owned privately, public housing is owned and managed by the Government. The laws between the two types of housing are the same, and, like in private rentals, tenants enter a lease agreement at the beginning of their tenancy.

The aim of public housing is to provide long term, secure, and affordable housing to people and families on low incomes. In Australia, public housing is managed by State Governments. In Victoria, the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing manages public housing, and provides universal rules and regulations for all public housing properties. Victoria has around 64,000 public housing properties, making up 1.9% of the state’s housing stock.

You may have heard public housing referred to as commission housing, or government housing. These are old terms that have since been phased out. Although they may refer to the same thing, the correct term today is public housing. 

What does the Victorian Public Tenants Association do?

We are the peak body representing public housing tenants in Victoria.

We provide a support service that includes the provision of counselling, advice, referral, representation and advocacy for people, including those who are homeless, or otherwise in significant distress, regarding matters related to public housing.

We also work to advocate for the provision of a viable public housing system for those who need it, including the broad community.

Cartoon drawing of a group of men and women standing together and smiling.

What is community housing?

Community housing is a similar type of long-term housing tenure to public housing. The major difference between the two types is that community housing is managed by private organisations. Rent in public housing is generally more affordable than rent in community housing.

What is social housing?

The term ‘social housing’ is the umbrella term used to describe both public and community housing. You may hear either referred to by this term. The waitlist, called the Victorian Housing Register, for public and community housing is the same, which means people can apply for both at the same time. Applicants can choose to apply for either or both within the same application. This is to streamline the application process.

Cartoon drawing of apartments.

How do you get into public housing?

People may apply for public housing when they experience economic hardship, or housing stress. Housing stress happens when more than 30% of gross household income is being spent on housing costs.

Allocations of public housing properties are prioritised to certain people, including those who are experiencing homelessness, escaping family violence, have a disability, or need to move for health reasons. Other applicants go onto the ‘Register of Interest’ category. Applicants need to meet income and asset eligibility criteria – you can find out more information about the eligibility criteria here.

How much does public housing cost?

Tenants in public housing pay either the market rent for their property, or 25% of their gross household income, whichever is lower. Like private rentals, tenants in public housing also pay their own utility fees.

How many people need public housing?

As of 2020 there was over 100,000 people on the waitlist to receive a social housing property in Victoria.  Demand for public housing far outweighs supply of properties. Not only is there a lack of social housing, there is also a lack of affordable rentals in general. For this reason, waiting times to get into a public housing property can be long, and some people wait for years before they are allocated a property.

When coupled with the lack of affordable properties in the private rental market, the wait time exacerbates poverty and inequality for people already struggling financially. We strongly advocate for an increase in public housing stock to help ease this problem and provide fairer outcomes for people in secure homes.

What causes homelessness?

A lack of social and affordable housing is a significant cause of homelessness in Australia. As the long waitlist for social housing would suggest, there are not enough affordable homes for people who need them. This means that, even when other support systems are enabled, people do not have a home to move into.

How does public housing alleviate homelessness?

Ending homelessness is possible. We know that homelessness is a complex problem, and therefore it is not fixed with a simple solution. A solution to homelessness needs to encompass a range of social and economic perspectives such as addressing unemployment, family violence, mental and physical health, and many other things. However, we know that without housing, all other attempts to fix homelessness are futile.

More housing is not a ‘fix all solution’, but it provides the starting point to begin solving the other problems that cause homelessness in our society. Public housing, when provided with the right support systems, is therefore a real and achievable solution to ending homelessness.

Cartoon drawing of a homeless man sitting down asking for donations in a cup.

How does public housing support our economy?

Public housing acts as a crucial tier within the broader housing market. Without it, the affordability of all housing tenure is compromised.  In the housing market, public housing sits between emergency accommodation, and private rental. This means that it acts as the catchment net between secure housing tenure and homelessness. Without it, homelessness increases, as does the demand (and cost) for all other types of housing.

It’s also a type of housing that acts to promote equitable social outcomes, which boosts the economy by increasing access to education and employment, and alleviating reliance on healthcare and criminal justice systems. In addition, government investment into building housing creates employment opportunities across industries such as trades and infrastructure.

Cartoon drawing of a female and male couple embracing and holding a baby.

The intrinsic value of having a home

In the Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations recognises that adequate housing provides a minimum standard of living that every person has the right to. We know that housing provides us with safety, security, and a place to sleep at night. However, homes have a much more significant meaning to us than just this.

Our homes become our own space, and how we use and fill that space reflects who we are. We work at home, we study at home, and we read, think, and create at home.  We share our homes with the people that we love, whether they are the people that live with us, or the visitors that we welcome. Our homes are places where we grow our families, share our thoughts, our happiness, and our sadness.

For people that have experienced homelessness especially, homes can provide a strong sense of belonging, dignity, and empowerment. We stand strongly behind the idea that everybody deserves to have a home.