Public housing

Pressure mounts on ACT’s public housing market as more people are excluded from rentals

It started with a water leak in the bathroom, but it led to every parent’s nightmare.

Canberra’s mother, Tori Oppelaar, now lives in fear that her three children will be exposed to asbestos when they use the toilet at their Kambah home.

“[Water] leaked behind the tiles and made the glue weak, so the tiles started to fall off [the shower wall],” she said.

“I have been told that the glue is not asbestos, but the parts of the wall that were torn with the glue where the tiles fall are asbestos.”

Ms. Oppelaar is concerned that parts of the wall where the tiles fall could expose her to asbestos.(

ABC News: Adam Kennedy


Ms Oppelaar said her owner ACT Housing had done little other than put up plastic sheeting to cover the missing tiles as he planned to sell the property.

She was told the property is safe to live in as long as the asbestos sheets are not disturbed, but that she has been waiting to be moved to another property for 18 months.

“I don’t want to bathe my kids… because I don’t want them in the bathroom because it’s so dangerous,” she said.

“I would be happy to live here and stay here if it was safe for my kids, but it’s not, all the bathroom does is cause health problems and compromise us, me and my children. “

More complaints about social housing in Canberra

Craig Wallace, of ACT’s Social Services Council, said his organization has heard increasing complaints about the quality and maintenance of public housing in Canberra.

He said the organization had heard from “people facing long wait times for maintenance, people with soundproofing, heating and cooling problems, black mold in their homes, conflicts neighborhoods that are not resolved “.

A man wearing a brown tie crosses his arms with the ACTCOSS poster in the background.
Craig Wallace says ACTCOSS is hearing more and more complaints about the quality and maintenance of public housing in Canberra.(

ABC News: Nick Haggarty


ACT’s Housing Commissioner currently owns 11,595 properties, including 10,853 designated social housing with 20,967 residents.

The remaining 742 are leased to community service providers.

And the ACT government plans to increase its total inventory to 12,100 properties by mid-2025.

To maintain these properties, the government hired facilities management company Programd under a $ 235 million contract.

The contractor performs over 55,000 work orders each year, ranging from minor maintenance tasks to major renovations and upgrades to the property.

ACT Housing said Programd worked to ensure that communication between contractors, staff and tenants in the housing was effective.

“All social housing continues to meet health and safety standards and maintenance work is a priority to ensure it meets these standards,” said a spokesperson for ACT Housing.

“Housing ACT is committed to providing the best possible housing and supporting tenants who reside in social housing.”

Canberrans waiting up to 4 years for housing

Canberrans in need of public housing typically wait 1,264 days for standard housing, or nearly three and a half years.

The wait time for people with high needs is 761 days. Canberrans in need of priority accommodation must wait 283 days.

Currently, there are nearly 5,000 people on the housing waiting list, with 2,914 approved applications.

Waiting list


Number of applications

Number of persons

Median wait times






High needs









2 914

4 937

To transfer





High needs










2 384

Source: ACT Government, as of July 31, 2021.

ACT has more social housing per capita than anywhere else in Australia, but Wallace said the number of available housing has not kept up with demand.

“In a city like Canberra, which prides itself on being rich and prosperous, that’s not enough.”

Dirt falls from the roof of a Canberra roof
This is what a public house in Canberra looks like, with the roof rotting on those who live on the property.(



Mr Wallace praised the government’s renewal program, but said ACT needed more than 3,000 additional properties in 2016 – both public and community housing – just to fill the gap.

He predicted ACT would need another 8,000 properties by 2036 to keep pace.

Market demand prices a lot out of the market

ACT Homeless Services and Housing Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said the booming real estate market was placing unprecedented demand on housing.

“We are seeing an increase in wait times and that is because we have more people who identify that they need help,” she said.

Public housing is income tested, so some tenants are joining the growing queues for government assistance, while others are falling into housing limbo.

Mr. Wallace said ACTCOSS has even started to see middle-income civil servants struggling to cover their rent.

Ms Vassarotti said the government was working hard to increase the housing stock, but admitted the government did not have enough to meet demand.

“[The fact people now see] as an asset for capital accumulation rather than housing, has created a real mix of challenges that make it very difficult to ensure that everyone has decent housing, ”she said.

So what can we do?

YWCA Canberra Executive Director Frances Crimmins said the solution was to build more affordable and public housing.

“Social housing is infrastructure, we need social housing as well as roads and all these other infrastructure projects and it is increasing in value,” she said.

A blond haired woman smiles at the camera
Frances Crimmins says more affordable housing needs to be built in Canberra.(

ABC News: Nick Haggarty


But the minister said it was not a problem the government could solve on its own.

Ms Vassarotti said the government was supporting programs such as building for rent, renting below market in return for financial and tax incentives, and planning reforms to provide more affordable housing stock.

YWCA Canberra operates one of these affordable housing initiatives, RentWell, which allows owners to rent their properties through the YWCA.

Ms Crimmins said the program’s first tenant bought the property after just two years because housing security allowed her to return to work.

Despite the huge amount of public money involved, stakeholders said investing in housing saves society in the long run.

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