Advocates are worried that the nearly two-year wait for public or social housing for Victorians fleeing family violence may compel victims to choose between staying with their abusers or going without a place to live.
In the most recent Department of Families, Fairness and accommodation (DFFH) annual report, which was presented to parliament on Wednesday, it is indicated that the average wait period for “public rental housing” for individuals escaping domestic abuse is now 23.6 months, compared to 17.1 months in 2021–2022. That waiting period was 11.1 months in 2020–21.
The department is designed to prioritise access to housing for vulnerable Victorians, including those who are homeless, have a disability or are escaping domestic violence. Its goal is to locate them a residence in 10.5 months.
However, according to the report, the average wait period for all priority candidates was 18.1 months, which is more than three months longer than it was in 2021–2022.
The agency attributes the two waitlist blowouts to “less renters moving out and sustained demand for social housing following the Covid-19 pandemic.”
More over 55% (36,690) of the 65,195 Victorians on the public housing waiting list as of June were priority candidates. These numbers have not changed from the prior year.
In order to address decades of underinvestment in social housing, the then-prime minister, Daniel Andrews, launched the $5.3 billion “big housing build” in 2020. He claimed at the time that it would increase the number of social and inexpensive homes in the state by 12,000 units.
However, the rollout continued to proceed slowly. Victoria had 88,189 social housing units, falling short of the department’s 2022–2023 goal.
Despite 1,302 more homes being built between 2021 and 2022, there has only been a net increase of 1,376 units since 2018.
The department attributes this to the successful completion of multiple large-scale projects, including 130 in Heidelberg, 178 in Ashburton, and 200 residences in Ascot Vale. It stated that at the beginning of 2024, further houses in Brighton, Flemington, and Prahran would be finished.
Richard Riordan, the housing spokesman for the opposition, called it “unacceptable” that despite the government’s “massive” investment in social and affordable housing, the waitlist was still unacceptably long.
Riordan told media Australia, “They’re making this big cash splash and there’s no evidence it’s actually making an impact.”
The idea that women escaping domestic abuse had to wait up to two years for accommodation, he said, “beggars belief.”
“I’ve spoken with a number of women on the waiting list who claim they are being pressured to return to their abuser or live in a trailer or motel. It’s incorrect, Riordan declared.
According to Kate Fitz-Gibbon of Respect Victoria and the Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre at Monash University, victim-survivors “needed access to safe and suitable housing at the point of relationship separation.”
Fitz-Gibbon stated, “We need to make sure that victim-survivors are not forced to choose between continuing in an abusive relationship or facing homelessness and housing insecurity.”
The Council to Homeless Persons’ acting chief executive, Tom Johnson, noted that it was crucial to remember that many women who fled domestic abuse did so while carrying children.
“Being a parent without a place to live also implies that you may not have a kitchen and that you are not in a school zone. It may be even more difficult to keep your children’s sleep schedules intact if you’re staying in a temporary motel, Johnson added.
“Parenting is a very difficult task in and of itself, let alone trying to heal from your experience with family violence.”
It’s quite evident. According to Johnson, there is insufficient social housing available to provide homes for women and children fleeing domestic abuse.
The state government is being pushed by a coalition of housing groups, including the council, to build 60,000 more social housing apartments in the next ten years.