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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 6 Hansard (16 May) . . Page.. 1737 ..

MR WOOD (continuing):

The ACT, like other states and territories, is under increasing pressure to reprofile its stock to provide more appropriate accommodation and to respond to increasingly complex needs. Pressures on the social housing system are occurring at a time when more and more people in the private rental market are experiencing housing distress.

The next CSHA needs to support a sustainable social housing system and to ensure that housing programs facilitate outcomes for employment, health and wellbeing, and stable communities. If the Commonwealth further reduces funding to the ACT, the territory will face significant challenges in providing appropriate housing for those who urgently need it.

The need to address housing stress in our community is a significant challenge. Three years ago the Poverty Task Group found that people living in poverty in the ACT spent more on housing that elsewhere in Australia. It identified nearly 16,000 adults and 10,000 children living in poverty in the ACT. Over a quarter of these households were in the private rental market.

The recent poverty forum organised by ACTCOSS reinforced that poverty and the increasing cost of housing continue to be a problem and urgently need to be addressed.

I am sure that all members of the Assembly are fully aware of the difficult circumstances facing families and households in poverty as a result of the tight rental market and rising rents. Since becoming minister, I have been even more acutely aware of the difficulties facing many people in Canberra in accessing appropriate housing. Each day families and individuals in crisis contact us seeking accommodation. They are finding that it is increasingly difficult to get into public housing.

To give you some indication of the extent of the problems, it currently takes around nine months for highest priority applicants to obtain a public housing rental property. For those in high need, but not the highest needs category, the waiting time is approximately 20 months.

While these waiting times will vary depending on location and dwelling size, this situation is a matter of concern. These are not isolated cases. With the ongoing demand for public housing and increasing waiting times for priority housing, community services are reporting increasing numbers of people in housing stress.

The need to respond to the increasing urgency around access to affordable housing was confirmed in the recent budget consultations. Housing was identified as the greatest priority for the government's budget by the Standing Committee on Community Services and Social Equity and was raised by a majority of witnesses at the public hearings.

As the committee noted, the availability of secure and affordable housing is critical to reducing poverty. It impacts on every other aspect of a person's life. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the standing committee for its extensive inquiry into and report on priority issues for the budget. This work has been valuable in informing the government's budget considerations.

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