Despite the best efforts of this government’s marketing team, the big build is hardly contributing to better outcomes for regional communities and families. New figures released by the Victorian Housing Register show that nearly 67,000 Victorians are on the public housing waitlist as of March 2023, an increase of close to 4000 people over the previous 12 months. This is a 300 per cent increase since the government came into power. It is failing our most vulnerable Victorians. Average waiting times for those on the waitlist have blown out, with the urgent public housing category now nearly a two-year wait. Despite claims of record investments, public housing stock remains stagnant as more and more vulnerable Victorians are added to the waitlist each week. This situation is particularly dire in regional areas, including my electorate of Euroa. Right across my electorate we have waitlists for housing that are completely out of control. There are hundreds of people urgently waiting for housing in towns across the region, including Seymour, Benalla and the Broadford district. I am regularly contacted by people who are in desperate need of housing, and they are continually being told that there is simply no supply to house them.
$2.8 billion has only got us 74 new dwellings in our state on a net basis. This is simply not enough. It is another example of the Labor government’s inability to deliver their promises and manage the costs of a project. The shortages in public housing are having a significant impact when accompanied by the current cost-of-living crisis. Residents are already struggling with out-of-control rental increases, shocking house prices, soaring utility bills, exponentially rising interest rates and an ever-growing cost for their groceries and day-to-day items. Stable housing is essential to helping those in need to get back on their feet, but under the Andrews Labor government things are getting worse, not better. Housing stress is a major factor that impacts the livability and community benefit found in our towns.
Sadly, 25 out of 40 of the most disadvantaged locations in this state are regional areas. This includes towns in my electorate like Seymour, Benalla and Rushworth and nearby towns like Shepparton and Bendigo. These people are already doing it tough with struggling health systems, a lack of education and childcare providers, limited economic opportunities, domestic violence and many, many other factors. Addressing the housing stress in these towns is critical to improving the lives of many people in these areas. Vulnerable Victorians deserve better than a tired government that only delivers longer waiting lists, longer waiting times and no significant increase in new homes.
Today the Minister for Housing called it a ‘social housing emergency’. You would think that if there was genuine concern about this matter, the minister would bother to respond to my questions on notice. All the way back in March I asked the government about housing in my region. I asked simple questions. Through the big build, how many houses have been built in our region? How many are under construction? Not a single response, so I asked again in May. Still no response. We desperately need solutions, but it seems like the necessary actions are not being taken.
The increasing number of people struggling to find affordable housing and facing homelessness is heartbreaking. We need real tangible efforts to tackle this crisis and support those who are most vulnerable. Unfortunately, despite the spin, today has revealed we do not have a government capable of tackling this issue. At the very least we need a minister who cares enough to respond to these cries for help. With all the claims of the government’s big build, it is unclear if we have even seen a net increase in the number of houses in our communities.
Clearly the minister is too busy to respond, so I want him to hear directly from my community why this truly is, in his words, a ‘social housing emergency’. The Benalla homelessness response group has been recently set up by volunteers to support the homeless in the area with absolutely no funding. The group formed because of increasing stories of the silent homeless, those who are couch surfing, people sleeping in cars near the lake, at the showgrounds and under the Benalla library as well as those sleeping rough and bush camping out of town. The group’s hope is to set up a soup kitchen and gradually expand to offer accommodation, thanks to the selflessness of the local Benalla Lions Club volunteers. But once again we are leaning on our community volunteers to address the problems caused by the incompetent government. The Benalla homelessness response group was formed because this government has failed to help our most vulnerable Victorians yet again.
I recently had another resident visit my office and plead for housing help. A single father of four children, including a disabled child, was told there was a two-year waitlist and was encouraged to get a caravan. This is not good enough. Victorians deserve better. I want locals to be able to grow up, raise their family and own a home in their own community without having to save for decades. Unfortunately this is just not a reality at the moment.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic the median house price across regional Victoria has increased by over 45 per cent. The median value of a home in Kilmore has increased from $470,000 to $600,000 – that is a rise of 28 per cent – while the median price of homes in Broadford has increased by $145,000 over the same period. With strong growth in regional areas like the Mitchell shire, this government must work to level the playing field by increasing the housing infrastructure and education funding for regional areas. The issues in regional housing in terms of affordability, rental markets and public housing are out of control, and more needs to be done. Whether it is taxes, interest rates, borrowing capacity or the supply of homes, every metric for housing affordability is in reverse under the Andrews Labor government.