The Perth councils dodging their share of public housing

The policy, set in the 1990s, aims to eliminate public housing clusters built in Perth’s older suburbs in the 1950s to 1980s and evenly disperse them across the metropolitan area to create socially diverse communities.

The target of no more than one in nine houses (about 11 per cent) is broadly being met in the metropolitan area at a local government level, with public housing stock encompassing, on average, 3.63 per cent of the housing market.

The presence varies between councils from zero to nearly 12 per cent.

The 10 councils with the least public housing included a mix of western suburbs and outer fringe suburbs – East Fremantle being the only exception in 10th place.

Curtin University associate professor and director of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, Steven Rowley, said public housing presence was low in Perth’s western suburbs because the authority was selling off its expensive properties for revenue.

«The areas with the higher values are the first ones to be sold off,» he said.

«You get more revenue from public housing in those high-value areas in the western suburbs and it provides more revenue for the Housing Authority to ideally then build public housing stock elsewhere, but that certainly doesn’t always happen.

«That’s why you’ve got very low concentrations in the more expensive suburbs, because those are the ones that would be sold off first.»

In the metropolitan area, the waitlist for public housing is about 9700, with tenants waiting on average nearly two years to be housed.

Department of Communities assistant director general Greg Cash said the Housing Authority had invested heavily in breaking down «legacy concentrations» of public housing in older suburbs, but the process was time and resource-intensive.

«The department does aim to retain approximately one in nine units for social housing in its new developments and partnership projects, though this is a general target rather than a policy,» he said.

«The construction of new public housing is primarily dependent upon demand in the region, land availability, access to amenities, and the cost of construction.

«In some established suburbs, the cost to acquire land and build new housing is prohibitively expensive and the department must use its limited resources wisely.»

Since 2011, the Housing Authority’s high-value sales program has sought to sell its housing stock worth twice the value of the median house price once it becomes vacant and use the funds to build multiple dwellings.

An example of such a development is Lot 200 Ashton Avenue in Claremont, where three old social housing blocks have been amalgamated into one, with plans to build a three-storey apartment complex with about 25 one-bedroom units.

Two or three of the units would be kept for public housing. Around five would be affordable shared-equity housing and the remainder would be sold on the open market.

An artist's impression of the Lot 200 Ashton Avenue Claremont development, which will be built on a site formerly occupied by three old social housing properties. Two or three out of the estimated 25 one-bedroom apartments will be kept as public housing.

An artist’s impression of the Lot 200 Ashton Avenue Claremont development, which will be built on a site formerly occupied by three old social housing properties. Two or three out of the estimated 25 one-bedroom apartments will be kept as public housing.Credit:Housing Authority

Professor Rowley said revenue from the high-value properties was not necessarily being put into spreading the public housing stock into Perth’s newer suburbs, due to budget constraints.

«Public housing is tremendously expensive and that’s why we just don’t have the resources to build anymore,» he said.

«It’s expensive to manage public housing, it’s expensive for all the maintenance and a lot of the public housing stock is aging so the maintenance liability on those houses is extremely high.

«Serpentine-Jarrahdale is an area that expanded quite quickly, there’s virtually no public housing there, you would have certainly expected a few more properties,» he said.

«You can discuss all you want about the merits of such locations in terms of amenities and public transport, but there would certainly be people with family in those particular areas who would welcome a supply of public housing.

«You do need public housing to be available in all local government areas, there are people in need in all local government areas.»

Part two of WAtoday’s analysis of Perth’s public housing stock will look at the areas with the highest presence. 

Heather McNeill covers breaking news with a focus on crime, courts and Aboriginal affairs for WAtoday.

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