After Labor’s re-election in March, Perth MP the Hon. John Carey MLA became the Minister for Housing and Local Government.
Shelter WA welcomed the appointment of the Minister and commented that Minister Carey’s experience as a local government mayor, MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport and Planning, along with his Ministerial appointment for Local Government would provide a “much-needed dynamic to the mix”.
Since then, the minister has been busy traversing the state, and has overseen implementation of the Social Housing Economic Recovery Package (SHERP), Housing and Homelessness Investment Package and the METRONET Social and Affordable Housing and Job Package.
Shelter WA’s Chair Kieran Wong and Board were delighted to welcome the Minister to a member breakfast to allow the sector to hear the Minister’s priorities, ask questions, network and engage.
After an introductory welcome from Mr Wong, Noongar Elder Aunty Marie Taylor, a proud descendant of the Whadjuk/Ballardong Noongar people, conducted a Welcome to Country.
Aunty Marie shared stories from when she worked at Homeswest Fremantle as an Aboriginal Housing Officer. “Somewhere along the line we’ve lost track of how we can support each other,” Aunty Marie said. “Housing is about working with people, making sure that they stay in their home, technically forever. Sometimes it is about sitting down, talking and working together.”
After her welcome Mr Wong introduced the minister by quoting his inaugural speech where he said, “I am an optimist. I am here because I believe in the capacity of community to come together to drive social change and improve people’s lives.”
“We are optimistic here at Shelter WA,” Mr Wong said. “We know there are incredible housing challenges facing people across Western Australia. We remain optimistic because we know with the right investment and policy settings solutions are at hand. We also know through pragmatic nuanced approaches to housing we can deliver the homes needed.
“In the five months since the state election there’s been a significant shift and refocus by the state government and the Department of Communities on housing with the minister demonstrating his passion and strong commitment to social housing.”
Watch the full event
In his opening remarks the minister recognised the work and advocacy of the sector particularly during January 2020 when there were “doom predictions” in relation to the total effect of COVID-19 on Western Australia.
“I have to say all elements of our community, but particularly the welfare and social advocacy sector really did kick in in relation to that (COVID-19) planning right down to assisting people who were rough sleeping on our streets.
“Now we face an alternative scenario, one that we did not imagine. A booming economy. As everyone in this room clearly understands with that there are significant pressures. We have the highest intrastate migration since 2013 and as a result we have seen extraordinary housing construction and demand for housing.
“27,000 building approvals, 4,000 under Keystart, these are extraordinary figures. It has meant significant demand for public housing and a tightening of the rental market. When I’ve come in as the new minister it is been very clear to me that on the continuum of housing, we have addressed the affordable housing equation.
“My key passion is lifting social housing.”
“I have made it very clear as the new Minister for Housing that my key focus, my key passion is lifting social housing and I’m unrelenting in that focus. What that means is a refocus of the Department of Communities … from ground up a recalibration of the delivery programs, really look at everything we are doing, to focus sharply on increasing social housing delivery.
“The first area of change was the creation of a ‘Housing and Assets’ division. I wanted a far sharper and clearer line of responsibility about public housing delivery and that is what we did with a Deputy Director General (Mark Bryden) who is focused on delivery of public housing.
“Far sharper and clearer line of responsibility.”
“Mark is looking at procurement, ways which we can streamline processes to get the money out the door because we do have a big investment program, nearly one billion dollars in social housing, public housing, affordable housing.
“A second focus is vacancies. The reality is in our public housing system there is always going to be vacancies. We call it the churn rate. I have tasked the Department to go through all those longer standing vacant properties to look at how we can get them back into the system.
“How can we accelerate that shift … particularly in reference to refurbishment programs which are guided under head maintenance contracts. Can we do things like … when a tenant is leaving make an assessment about refurbishment and perhaps do some of it after so we can get the tenant in and make sure we house someone as part of that process.”
In rounding out his areas of key focus the minister referred to modular construction.
“I have directed the agency to look at modular as an alternative for the traditional brick build,” Mr Carey said. “Modular in regional communities is something we can potentially move faster on, and it can be a great option for culturally appropriate accommodation.
“It is certainly on my agenda.”
When it comes to land the minister recognised a more strategic approach was needed so better outcomes could be leveraged. He is Chair of a sub-committee of cabinet with the Minister for Lands and the Minister for Planning.
“We make a strategic assessment of land holdings across the metropolitan area,” he said. “It will allow us to go out to the market or the community housing sector so we can actually leverage good social housing outcomes. This sub-committee also oversees all land development projects transferred from the Department of Communities to DevelopmentWA. We have governance over that land, it is not lost, I’ve had some concerns, but it is just going through a different vehicle.
Another challenge the minister highlighted was the amount of people who “do not want community and social housing in our community”. “I think sometimes our sector underappreciate that,” he said.
“I will not be bowing to that.”
“Even in my own electorate, where I am looking at how to accelerate social housing, I have people turning around and saying, ‘we do not want it here’. That is the harsh reality. I want to assure everyone in this room I will not be bowing to that. I will be fiercely, at every opportunity advocating for the delivery of social housing. Sometimes it will be tough and sometimes it will be contentious, but I will have the sectors back.”
Another Department of Communities program under review is Thrive.
“I am looking at the capacity, the ability of Thrive to deliver, that is a fifty-eight-million dollar program to keep tenants in the public housing system. But I do want to see how we can better look at providing support to tenants particularly domestic violence victims. We must do everything we can to assist and stop tenants falling out of the social housing system.”
Social Housing Economic Recovery Package Grants Program
In concluding his speech, the minister announced ninety-three million dollars for new and upgraded community housing, new housing construction projects and refurbishments and funding for housing maintenance works in remote Aboriginal communities.
The additional funding announced for refurbishments of community housing and supported accommodation and community housing construction, and for maintenance on housing on remote communities was very welcome.
Question and Answer Session
The Minister made himself available to respond to questions from the floor and via Zoom.
You can watch the entire event here including the questions and the answers. Shelter WA would like to thank the minister and his staff for taking the time to meet with the sector amid a busy schedule, and looks forward to an ongoing relationship with him and his office.