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Albany support services provider questions reality of State Government’s public housing data

Stuart McGuckinAlbany Advertiser
Pivot CEO Ian Neil says homelessness is worse than figures indicate.
Camera IconPivot CEO Ian Neil says homelessness is worse than figures indicate. Credit: Laurie Benson

The chief executive of an Albany support services provider has questioned how well public housing waiting list data matches up with reality after recent figures indicated a slight improvement over the past six months.

A Department of Communities spokesman said data from the end of December for wait list numbers and average waiting times showed a “clear reduction” compared with data from the end of July.

The figures showed the number of applicants on public housing list within the Albany preference region fell by 26 to 435 over the past six months, while the number on the priority list also dropped slightly from 132 to 129.

The average time spent on the wait list before being allocated a home also fell by 15 weeks from 139 to 124, but those on the priority list were still having to wait more than a year (61 weeks) despite the average wait time falling by about a month.

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Frankly we are actually helping people fund the registration of their vehicles because that’s their home.

Ian Neil

Pivot Support Services chief executive Ian Neil said if his clients were being housed within 2 1/2 years, it “would be a whole new world”.

He said the statistics provided by the department did not match what he had seen happening on the ground.

“Frankly we are actually helping people fund the registration of their vehicles because that’s their home,” he said.

“We have released prisoners who come out to homelessness with a swag and tent then go bush; that’s only ever going to end in tears and is an awful situation, but we see it every day.

“I would like to know how ‘housed off the waitlist’ is measured, because we’re not seeing that.”

Pivot started in 2005 primarily as a service provider helping prisoners reintegrate back into the community upon release and has expanded to address the disadvantage prisoners come from by creating a community hub.

Clients can use the hub to access the service that best meets their need.

The hub also offers emergency relief to persons in crisis or disadvantage.

It has also developed an NDIS service catering to the needs of people with disability, which aims to create sufficient funds to allow its hub to continue

Of the 422 individual clients Pivot helped last year, 171 identified as homeless and about three quarters of those are on the public housing wait list.

Pivot is aware of just four of those clients being offered housing in 2022.

Anyone waiting significantly longer than the average wait time is an outlier and may be seeking specific accommodation requirements or specific accommodation needs.

A Department of Communities spokesman

The department spokesman said it strove to meet the housing needs of all applicants on the wait list at the earliest opportunity.

“Anyone waiting significantly longer than the average wait time is an outlier and may be seeking specific accommodation requirements or specific accommodation needs,” he said.

“And these longer-than-average wait times generally reflect the individual circumstances of the applicant, rather than the experience of the wider population.”

He said factors contributing to longer wait times could include having sourced appropriate accommodation yet remaining eligible for public housing; declining multiple offered properties; requiring very specific housing features; and changes in preference zone, family composition and housing needs.

If they are not on the wait list already and they haven’t been on there for a significant amount of time there is no prospect of housing.

Ian Neil

Mr Neil said his organisation was often resigned to telling people there was no housing.

“If they are not on the wait list already and they haven’t been on there for a significant amount of time there is no prospect of housing,” he said.

“There is also no emergency accommodation, no respite accommodation and no services for homeless.

“We are probably the major provider of services to homelessness in the region.

“We certainly are in Albany JUand we are not funded for that — we self-fund the community hub and we can’t continue to do JUthat.”

Compounding the ongoing public housing crisis in Albany is a record low rental vacancy rate of 0.3 per cent, well below the 2.5-3.5 per cent rate the Real Estate Institute WA considers balanced.

The rate has sat below one per cent for more than 2 1/2 years, with it last being above the mark when it was at 1.2 per cent in June 2020.

The department spokesman said more housing for the region had been funded, with 17 new Albany dwellings “under contract” at the end of November and another 25 in the planning or design phase.

“As soon as the social dwellings under construction have been completed, they will be offered to those next on the wait list,” he said.

There were 555 applications on the list for the wider Great Southern preference region, which includes the Albany zone, at the end of 2022, down from 575 at the end of November and 595 at the end of July.

Priority list numbers for the region have also fallen to 168 from 173 mid-year.

The average time on the wait list has fallen to 110 weeks for those on the general list and 56 weeks for those on the priority list — down from 122 weeks and 57 weeks mid-year respectively.

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