Making social housing count for all Victorians

4 Dec 2021

We recently made a submission to the Victorian Government’s independent Review of Social Housing Regulation.

Drawing on 20 years of running Victoria’s specialist legal service for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, we strongly believe that the Review presents an important opportunity to create a regulatory framework that prioritises all renters in public and community housing (social housing) having safe, suitable, secure, and affordable homes.

Victoria currently has a two-tier social housing system where the rights, protections, and supports for renters in community housing differ from those in public housing. As recognised in the Review’s Consultation Papers, regulation of social housing should create equity, so that people in the same circumstances receive similar services, rights, and protections – irrespective of their housing provider. This will ensure that social housing in Victoria is fit for purpose and embeds long-term, positive outcomes for all social housing renters.

Our recommendations draw on evidence from providing intensive legal and social work assistance to renters in public and community housing, as well as our leadership and engagement across the community and legal sectors.

Read our submission

1. Create better, consistent policies and practices in social housing

With one Victorian Housing Register waitlist, people seeking social housing can be placed into either public or community housing. It is critical that Victorians are not worse-off, or left with fewer rights, based on the type of social housing that they are allocated.

To strengthen security of tenure and rental sustainability, better protections of renters’ rights are needed through improved, consistent, and best-practice public and community housing policies.

Public and community housing providers also need to be supported with adequate resources, staff training, access to renter support services, and supply of housing stock, so that they can implement and embed clear, consistent high-quality policies and practices.

2. Stronger protection for renters’ human rights in all social housing

The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) is critical when it comes to protecting the human rights of social housing renters, particularly around eviction.

We frequently engage in negotiations based on the Charter with public and community housing rental providers to prevent evictions into homelessness. As seen through Lara’s story below, Charter negotiations can be central in stopping homelessness before it starts for Victorian renters and their families.

To strengthen security of tenure and rental sustainability, there needs to be explicit recognition that community housing providers are bound by the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic), as well as ensuring VCAT has jurisdiction to consider the Charter.

3. Fairer dispute resolution and accountability mechanisms for enforcing and upholding renters’ rights

Better resourced and more robust accountability mechanisms are required for public and community housing providers, so that social housing providers’ decisions are reviewable and enforceable. Currently, the complaint and appeal mechanisms for public and community housing are separate, and largely inaccessible to renters – making it harder for them to enforce their rights and resolve disputes.

To resolve these issues, the Victorian Government should establish a joint housing appeals office that applies to both public and community housing, expand the Victorian Ombudsman’s jurisdiction to community housing, and establish an internal appeal mechanism for decisions made in the VCAT Residential Tenancies List.

Read our submission