Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 7 Hansard (3 July) . . Page.. 2674..
DR FOSKEY (continuing):
I understand that tax legislation and funding agreements tend to set the affordability figure on a program-by-program basis. I would have preferred this legislation to include some fallback mechanism for determining affordability for affordable housing providers. A GST concession which comes in when the rent is set at less than 75 per cent of market rent is not a rigorous enough way to assess affordability, in my mind.
Similarly, I am concerned that this regulatory framework for community housing providers does not consider how or at what level rents are set either. Community housing providers generally charge rent as a proportion of income but that may not be the case.
I sought the advice of the minister's office on this matter. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the minister's staff and officers of the department who are always helpful, although we do not always see eye to eye. In this case, the advice was to refer to the dictionary in the Housing Assistance Act which defines community housing as to mean rental housing for:
(a) people on low and moderate incomes or with special needs; or
(b) non-profit community organisations.
In the context of a register of community housing for which the commissioner for housing will need to accept significant responsibility, then the overarching regulatory framework might have been expected to have included some way of assessing the proportion of income that is reasonable for people on low to middle incomes to pay in rent.
More alarmingly—and this was a real concern—I note that neither ACTCOSS nor ACT Shelter, which is the peak body for social housing in the ACT, were brought into any consultation over the details of this bill; nor, it would seem, were they even sent a copy of the bill; nor, it would seem, were they even sent an email note to advise them that the bill has been tabled. Remember that the 2006 budget started the slow death of the community housing organisations of the ACT, the peak body for community housing providers, while ACT Shelter was only half garrotted.
My office has conducted a brief consultation with affordable and community housing providers in Canberra. The one affordable provider, CHC Affordable Housing, had worked closely with the department and was right across the details of this bill. They were very helpful to my office, explaining the way the bill would apply to them in particular.
Discussions with four separate community housing providers, however, revealed that they had no knowledge of the provisions of the bill, no awareness that the bill was even up for debate and some considerable concern with key provisions. I find that astonishing and disturbing.
When it was suggested to us that it is the responsibility of community organisations themselves to keep their eye on the legislation register, I was quite concerned. For one