The Victorian Government released Victoria’s Housing Statement – The Decade Ahead 2024-2034 on 20 September 2023, providing a blueprint for investment and policy change over the next decade to address one of the most vital issues impacting on how we age in Victoria.
COTA Victoria and Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) are pleased to provide this initial briefing for members on what the Statement means for older people, particularly those who may be facing uncertain housing futures.
Response from COTA Victoria and SRV
COTA Victoria and SRV welcomed Victoria’s Housing Statement, including its potential to increase housing availability and affordability in the state. However, we emphasised that these reforms must support Victorians to age well, and that successful implementation requires that older Victorians be effectively engaged to ensure these changes deliver value rather than unintended consequences.
This is aligned to our recent submission and presentation to a parliamentary inquiry into Victoria’s rental and housing affordability crisis.
What is the Statement and what does it cover?
The Housing Statement describes the Victorian Government’s key responses to the state’s growing housing crisis. It lays out a package of initiatives and policy reforms to support increased building of housing – including public and community-managed social housing – across Victoria, together with changes to better support and protect renters. The headline target is to build 800,000 homes over the next decade to meet the needs of our expanding population – some 250,000 more than would be built on current trends.
The announcement focuses on five key areas:
- Good decisions, made faster – including streamlining approval processes for builds of certain levels of investment and affordable housing, and removing the need for planning permits for smaller secondary dwellings on large blocks.
- Cheaper housing, closer to where you work – including unlocking new spaces for housing in established suburbs and on government land, and pursuing planning and infrastructure development so that more homes are closer to transport, health services and schools.
- Protecting renters’ rights – including banning rental bidding, restricting rent increases, making rental applications easier, and establishing a new agency to deal with rental disputes.
- More social housing – including redevelopment of all 44 public high-rise towers by 2051, with a resulting 10 percent uplift in social housing, underpinned by regulatory improvements and complementing growth of public and community-managed stock as part of the Big Housing Build.
- A long-term housing plan – to advance these issues over future decades in alignment with the national housing accord, with consultation to commence in 2024.
What does this mean for older Victorians?
Older people are considered, but not at the heart of reforms.
- While the entire Statement will impact older people, it’s clear there are some initiatives that are more focussed on older people as well as other relevant cohorts.
- For instance, there is a commitment to make it easier to build granny flats or dwelling garden units, and there is an initiative to strengthen design standards for apartments to ensure high quality builds that fit people’s needs. It is also pleasing to see the Statement talk about creating liveable communities with better ease of access to facilities for diverse and mixed populations.
- However, there is no mention that we are an ageing population. This is a concern, as older people have different needs for their housing or housing support. With older people increasingly renting, this will only become more pronounced as we look to the next decade.
- While Victoria’s Housing Statement provides a large list of commitments, there is also still a lot we don’t know. These details are key to the success of this initiative and are also key for us to understand how these proposed changes will impact older Victorians.
- For instance, while the relation of requirements around secondary dwellings could help make it easier for some older people to remain ageing well at home, we know through SRV that, without proper protection, this arrangement can lead to elder abuse.
- It is imperative that ageing is recognised as being central to this Statement and its reforms, and that there is effective and ongoing engagement and consultation to make sure these commitments and initiatives meet the needs of Victoria’s growing older population.
There is going to be more building – including in established areas.
- While it will take time for these initiatives to be implemented and have an impact, the direction is clear – it is going to be easier to build new homes in Victoria and, resultingly, there will be more new homes.
- There is an emphasis on reducing current bureaucratic processes and streamlining planning approvals to speed up the rate of building new housing, which should help to build the new homes for the state.
- This includes clearing the council backlog and recruiting more planners; reducing ‘red tape’, like giving VCAT the power to dismiss matters without a prospect of success and streamlining assessment pathways through approved residential standards for different types of homes. Approval processes, such as for certain residential builds and secondary dwellings, can also be changed.
- The Statement will continue the long-term trend of encouraging housing in regional areas and growing suburbs, but the emphasis is also on established areas – for instance, while Melbourne has been expanding, it will now be getting denser. There is a focus on increasing housing availability in 10 identified activity centres, as well as Melbourne’s Priority Precincts.
- All this means that there is an increased likelihood of development, and a decreased opportunity to oppose development. While this is, broadly, a positive thing for many older Victorians, this could have a negative impact on some older people, depending on their circumstance.
- This underlines the need for older people to be explicitly included in this process at all levels and for impacts on all age groups to be addressed equally. The specific needs of older citizens must be considered in a genuine way.
There is going to be more social and affordable housing.
- The Statement strongly commits to maintaining and growing the stock of social housing, both public- and community-managed. This should be good news for the large number of older people wanting to remain in or move to this type of housing.
- However, the future mix of this housing and how adequately it will meet even current demand (estimated to require 6,000 extra properties each year) is not yet clear. The redevelopment of the 44 public housing towers will only provide 10% more social housing – yet the number of people living in these locations will triple, driven by an increase in affordable and private housing.
- There appears to be a greater emphasis on affordable housing. Victoria’s Development Facilitation Program will be expanded to streamline the planning for process for significant residential developments ($15m+) that include at least 10% more affordable housing, while the initiative around changing planning controls for 60,000 new homes in 10 identified activity centres will also focus on how to encourage affordable housing.
- Where there are commitments to support social and affordable housing increases, such as the $1bn investments for the Affordable Housing Investment Partnership and the Regional Housing Fund, the ‘mix’ of these types of housing is still undecided.
- Social housing rents are calculated based on income, but affordable housing is rented or sold at a price lower than the local market rate. If the local market is experiencing high demand, the price could still be unaffordable to many. While older people will be able to benefit from increasing affordable housing options, it is less likely to benefit older people reliant on JobSeeker or pension payments.
Renters will have more rights – but little immediate support.
- There is clear recognition in the Statement that further system improvements are needed to give private sector renters a fair go. A bundle of measures is proposed to build on previous reforms around tenancy rights and rental standards.
- Many older people will benefit from initiatives to make rental applications easier, guard against up-bidding of prices and require longer notice of rent increases and notices to vacate, as well as improved complaints mechanisms.
- With more older people renting, it will be vital to ensure that information provision and communications on these matters is provided in forms amenable to older people, including those who are digitally excluded, while the proposed real estate industry training should encompass sensitivity to the practical, social, and emotional issues for older tenants.
- However, there is little immediate support for renters in the short-term. While the increase of available housing should help to drive prices down in the long-term, the Statement only includes $2m in immediate support under the Rental Stress Support Package.
How can you stay engaged on these issues?
The Housing Statement is a significant first step on a long journey to seriously tackle Victoria’s housing crisis. Engagement in the development of the long-term housing strategy will start in 2024. COTA Victoria and SRV will continue to advocate for the State Government to provide specific opportunities for older people to contribute to this process.
We will also look for other opportunities to influence and advise on housing for older people through policy processes around infrastructure, transport, cost of living and other interrelated issues.
Seeking more information?
As this work proceeds, we are keen to hear from you. For input related to housing policy, contact Ben Rogers, our Policy and Advocacy Manager.
Please also feel free to contact us on housing matters directly affecting you by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling us on 1300 135 090.