400 empty public housing properties while hundreds wait months

More than 400 public housing properties in Canberra are empty while hundreds are on the waitlist. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
More than 400 public housing properties in Canberra are empty while hundreds are on the waitlist. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

More than 400 public housing properties sit empty across Canberra, while almost 200 people were on the "priority list" to get a new home.

The average wait time for those most in need was close to nine months, climbing to more than three years for standard housing.

Meanwhile, one public housing property in Kambah had been "left to rot" for four months, with rubbish strewn through the yard, despite repeated calls for help from neighbours.

Tatum O'Meara lives nearby the house which she said had been empty for all of 2021.

Tatum O'Meara is concerned a public housing property in her street has been untenanted and left in an unacceptable state for months. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Tatum O'Meara is concerned a public housing property in her street has been untenanted and left in an unacceptable state for months. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

"We live in an awesome neighbourhood ... it's a fantastic home for new beginning, a fresh start, but unfortunately it's fallen through [due to] a lack of process, a lack of accountability," she said.

A Community Services Directorate spokesman said properties could remain empty because they needed maintenance or upgrades, were in the process of being matched with tenants' needs, undergoing inspection or were to be sold.

He couldn't comment on a specific property for privacy reasons.

The spokesman said houses were vacant for 38 days on average between tenants, when they required "only routine maintenance".

"Where major repairs or other more extensive work is required, the number of days vacant can be longer," he said.

There were 2783 people waiting for public housing in the ACT, including 183 on the priority list and 1647 who required "high-needs housing".

The current wait time for a standard property was 1340 days, or almost three-and-a-half years.

People waited for "high-needs housing" on average almost two-and-a-half years.

In the directorate's 2019-20 Annual Report, it stated the biggest costs including insurance, property rates and maintenance were growing faster than their main revenue source of tenants' rent.

Neighbours are concerned a property in Kambah has been untenanted for more than four months. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Neighbours are concerned a property in Kambah has been untenanted for more than four months. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The report stated the revenue capacity wasn't able to keep up with growing property costs, and Housing ACT was subsiding that gap through the sale of properties.

"The consequence is a reduction in Housing ACT's property funds that are able to be reinvested into property assets because they are needed to pay for operations," the report said.

There are currently 403 empty homes.

In 2019-20 there were 368 empty properties, including 70 which were available for tenants, 144 needing maintenance and 124 to be sold or redeveloped.

The year prior, in 2018-19, Housing ACT reported 432 empty properties.

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This included 116 available for tenants, 96 which needed maintenance, 66 for sale and 133 at the final stage of development.

The directorate did not explain why the Kambah property had remained empty for so long, nor why it hadn't been cleaned or inspected.

Ms O'Meara said the overgrown block had taken a toll on the neighbours. Some had stepped in to help control the overgrown lawn.

"We are more concerned about the length of time it's been empty," Ms O'Meara said.

"There's a home sitting here waiting for a family, but it's been left to rot."

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This story 'Left to rot': 400 empty public housing properties while hundreds wait months first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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