Feature Article - A history of Housing assistance in Tasmania,
Contributed by Maryanne Lewis, Housing Tasmania, Department of Health and Human Services
At the beginning of this century economic depression had highlighted and exacerbated the poor conditions in which the urban population lived. Administrative structures to support growth were under-developed. The absence of public or other forms of housing assistance was accompanied by a general disinterest by government in the plight of ‘the poor’. Most had little choice but to rent expensive and poorly built housing from unregulated landlords.
The Homes Act 1919 (Tas) provided for loans of up to £700 to allow low and moderate income families to build a home. The Act was administered by the Agricultural Bank of Tasmania. This Act was the first significant involvement by the Tasmanian Government in the provision of housing assistance. Despite this, many people remained living in homes considered to be ‘unfit for human habitation’.
THE FIRST COMMONWEALTH-STATE HOUSING AGREEMENT
During the 1930s it became apparent that low-cost loans could not adequately meet the demand for housing assistance. In 1935 a second Homes Act was passed. The new Act provided for the establishment of the Housing Division to build homes available for rental to low income earners. The bank completed the first 22 homes in late 1936. The homes in Liverpool Street, Hobart, were available to low income earners on a rent or purchase basis. There were 666 homes built between 1934 and 1942 on this rent or buy arrangement. The Group Homes scheme commenced in 1940. This scheme gave access to a home to those who could not afford a deposit. This policy of building and developing subdivisions was to last more than 40 years.
In 1943, the Commonwealth Government set up the Commonwealth Housing Commission. The Commission’s most far reaching recommendation was that affordable public housing should be provided for those on moderate incomes. This led to the first Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement (CSHA), signed in 1945. The agreement provided low-interest loans to States for the provision of housing for people on low incomes. Despite labour and material shortages, 1,130 homes were constructed with CSHA funds between 1945 and 1950.
A PROSPEROUS TIME
Until the mid 1950s the emphasis of the Tasmanian Government’s housing policy was on home ownership. This preference for home ownership became a source of tension between Tasmania and the Commonwealth Government and led to Tasmania exiting the CSHA in 1950.
Demand for housing grew steadily in the years after the war. The number of marriages increased sharply and the age at which people chose to marry decreased. These two factors impacted strongly on the rate of household formation. Migration to Tasmania also increased greatly as did intrastate migration from rural to urban areas.
A steady increase in the demand for housing led to the setting up of the Housing Department of Tasmania in July 1953. The new department was responsible for the construction, allocation and ongoing management of homes, while the Agriculture Bank continued to provide home loans for low and moderate income earners. The 1950s were financially difficult for the Housing Department. The State Government found it difficult to secure funding from the Commonwealth Loans Council. The State felt it was in the best interests of Tasmania to re-enter the CSHA in 1956.
The late 1950s and 1960s were a period of innovation for the Housing Department. While the construction of modest, three-bedroom houses remained their primary activity, the department experimented with other designs as well. Units were designed for small families and for the elderly. Two large unit complexes were constructed in Hobart at Windsor and Stainforth courts.
The aim of the Housing Department in the 1960s was to ‘promote happy, satisfied communities forming an integral part of our community life.’ To assist in achieving this, the department employed welfare officers to assist new tenants to settle in and to help them to overcome problems with home management, finances and getting along with neighbours.
Through the 1960s and early 1970s unemployment was minimal, wages were high and interest rates were low. During this time the Housing Department sold two-thirds of the homes it constructed. The third which remained contributed to an increasing supply of public rental housing.
Work on some of the State’s largest subdivisions began during the 1970s. These included Rokeby Grange, Clarendon Vale, Bridgewater and Gagebrook and new areas of Ravenswood. The nature of these subdivisions differed from previous development because there were now a much higher proportion of people who were renting their homes.
Prior to the 1970s most people who received State Government housing assistance were families where the main source of income was a wage. From 1970 the profile of clients began to change. There was an increase in single-parent families headed by females and a continued growth in the number of older clients. The proportion of people who were unemployed increased steadily.
In 1976 a special unit was formed for the management of housing for Aboriginal people. This year was the first in which housing was designed and built to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Other changes in the 70s included the redevelopment of inner city areas, an increase in the construction of smaller housing, an increase in the construction of units for older people and the testing of new planning methods.
With the exception of Rocherlea in Launceston, there was a shift in the 1980s away from the development of subdivisions to in-fill housing and the purchase of homes in older suburbs, making use of existing infrastructure such as water, roads, sewerage and power. It also provided better access to community and commercial services.
During the 1980s the department began to administer new federally funded schemes including:
- the Local Government and Community Housing Program;
- the Mortgage and Rent Relief Scheme to assist those renting in the private market and buying their own home;
- the Home Purchase Scheme to assist low-income earners obtain finance from both the Housing Department and the Tasmanian Development Authority;
- the Crisis Accommodation Program to provide Youth and Women’s shelters and other emergency accommodation; and
A CHANGE IN DIRECTION
In the past 10 years the nature of housing assistance has changed: there has been a shift towards the recognition of tenants and other clients as customers. This has involved:
- better services for youth, people with disabilities and those from other special needs groups.
- informing people about products and policies;
- locating service centers in convenient places for clients;
- establishing the right to review of decisions;
- improving links with government and community services; and
The trend towards smaller households has continued. It is clear that there is an imbalance between the housing that people need and the available rental stock. In response to this issue, Housing Tasmania has continued to purchase well-located, high-amenity dwellings, recondition and redevelop aged stock and dispose of dwellings that no-longer meet needs.
Particular attention is directed to broadacre housing areas developed over the past 30 years. Housing Tasmania has worked with local government and community groups, and services such as schools, police, fire and health services. Initiatives such as the Bridgewater/Gagebrook Urban Renewal Project (BURP) and the Walk Tall Project in Ravenswood are examples of such partnerships in action.
Home Ownership for low-income families remains a priority. In 1994, the Home Ownership Assistance Program (HOAP) was launched. Loans are available to people who could afford to buy a home but who had difficulty getting a loan. To date over 1,600 people have accessed loans. In the past few years, an innovative Deposit Assistance Scheme has also been introduced.
The Residential Tenancy Act, 1997 came into effect on 1 July 1998 and covered all residential rental properties from 1 July 1999. The new legislation significantly enhances the rights of renters in both the public and private sector.
A CENTURY OF HOUSING ASSISTANCE
The contribution of government housing to the development of Tasmania is immense. Over the course of this century the State Government has built over 27,000 homes, or 16% of all homes in Tasmania, and has also provided loans to thousands of others to build their own homes. The Government has assisted tens of thousands of low-income earners with public housing, rent assistance, community housing and home-ownership assistance. Its contribution to other parts of Tasmanian life has also been extensive: the Housing Department trained over 600 apprentices; at various points over 500 families were housed after their homes were lost in bush fires; over 600 immigrant families started their lives in Tasmania in homes provided by the State Government; and finally, as part of developing housing all over the State, the Government has provided parks and playgrounds, shops, churches and community centres all over Tasmania.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Housing is widely recognised as an important factor in the complex and inter-related conditions that contribute to good health and well being. The future direction of housing assistance is to intervene to improve the capacity of people to secure good housing, whether this be through emergency accommodation, renting or buying their own home. Housing Tasmania also recognises that it must work within the broader community to strengthen and support individuals and families. Housing assistance works to help low-income Tasmanians who are unable to achieve good housing for themselves.
- developing products to suit people with special needs.