The City of Port Phillip has a proud history of supporting social housing for lower income residents threatened by rising private rental costs and closure of many Rooming Houses. It is a clear and unambiguous statement from the community that everyone deserves a home.
The City of Port Phillip has a proud history of supporting social housing for lower income residents threatened by rising private rental costs and closure of many Rooming Houses. That history goes back to the 1980s, before the amalgamation of the Councils of St Kilda, South Melbourne and Port Melbourne.
But first what is social housing? Sometimes referred to as community housing and/or public housing, these programs develop (build, rent and manage) affordable secure rental housing for low income people, who find it hard to access/retain accommodation in the private housing market and are in danger of falling into homelessness. The moniker ‘public housing’ is used to denote the State Government program, whereas ‘community/social housing’ is developed by not-for-profit registered housing associations and housing providers, working with all tiers of government who contribute funding and secure land and buildings
In 1985, St Kilda Council established a Community Housing Program to provide secure affordable rental housing for local residents with long term links to the area, who were eligible for public housing and who were threatened by displacement due to rising rents and diminishing affordable housing stock. In 1986 Council established the St Kilda Housing Association to undertake, at arms-length from Council, tenancy and property management of the housing program’s 31 units. St Kilda Community Housing became incorporated the same year and Council maintained representation on the Board of Directors.
Between 1986 and 2004 the former St Kilda Council and subsequently Port Phillip Council contributed $13.4 million and leveraged $19.4 million in State and Federal funding to deliver 311 units of community housing. In 2000 St Kilda Housing Association Inc changed its name to the Port Phillip Housing Association in recognition of its role in the new municipality of Port Phillip which arose from the amalgamation of Port Melbourne, South Melbourne and St Kilda Councils in 1994.*
In 2005, Council created the Port Phillip Housing Trust to ensure that its social housing stock would be available in perpetuity as affordable rental housing in the face of an increasingly gentrifying community. This meant that vital housing assets could not be used as a political football. Social housing tenants would be able to stay in their community, a practical and humane response to their potential displacement.
Changes to State Government housing policy at this time also influenced Council’s decision.
The State Government’s new focus was to grow the capacity of the not-for-profit housing sector by funding these organisations directly, rather than through joint venture project partnerships with local governments as had previously been the case. This also resolved a perceived conflict of interest in Council being the owner, developer and the responsible planning authority for future social housing projects.
In 2005 Council appointed Port Phillip Housing Association as the Trustee of Port Phillip Housing Trust. As a newly registered affordable housing association with access to State Government capital funding, Port Phillip Housing Association took over the role from Council and continued to deliver new community housing in the City.
Council vested 295 of its 311 units to the Trust valued, in 2007, at $49.2 million. One property was de-commissioned and the remaining 15 units continued to be owned and managed by the then Office of Housing. And it voted to provide $400,000 into the Trust each year, for the next 10 years, to 2015.
Between 2006 and 2015, the Port Phillip Housing Trust achievements were considerable. The Trust developed a further 72 housing units resulting from a total investment of $23 million, comprising:
- $9Million from the Victorian Government
- $7 Million from the Federal Government
- $6.5 Million from the City of Port Phillip
- $1.5 million from the Port Phillip Housing Association.
In addition, Port Phillip Housing Association in its own right developed an additional 193 affordable rental units in Port Phillip.
Today, the Trust maintains a strong financial position through its ownership of 368 units with an additional 46 to be added with the recent State Government funding for development of the Marlborough Street project in Balaclava. Council provided land for this project. In addition, the Trust contributed $6.5 million and leveraged a further $13.1 million from the State Government to secure the purchase and redevelopment of a property in Tennyson Street St Kilda, producing 50 additional units of affordable rental housing. Other projects include renovating existing properties in the Trust and converting rooming houses. (Port Phillip Housing Trust Annual Report 2018/2019)
What needs to be made clear is that all the properties in the Trust and to which Council has made a financial contribution (in the form of land, buildings and/or cash) are available only to low income residents who are eligible for public housing and who have significant, long-term links to Port Phillip.
The Council’s Port Phillip Housing Trust embodies a powerful statement about modern citizenship, in recognizing that affordable housing is fundamental to other rights, including economic and social participation.
In 2015 Council voted to increase funding for social housing in Port Phillip to $500,000 per annum following the expiry of the ten-year agreement entered into in 2005. These funds have not been placed into the Port Phillip Housing Trust but remain available in a special Council Housing Reserve. Leveraging this Reserve to grow our social housing and especially the Port Phillip Housing Trust will be a critical task for the next Council.
Since 1985 the housing program has become an expression of the values in our community; it is a clear and unambiguous statement from the community that everyone needs and deserves a home. It is a way of acknowledging that rising property prices do have social consequences and a practical means of ensuring that there are local, affordable rental housing options available. Voters in Port Philip have consistently elected Councils that proactively support social housing.
The Council’s early Community Housing Program and the establishment of the Port Phillip Housing Trust is a tangible expression of this commitment.
Council’s housing initiatives over time have leveraged very significant co-investment from state and commonwealth governments and its Port Phillip Housing Trust partners. It is a smart and efficient response to Port Phillip’s affordable rental housing needs.
The program is emblematic of the responsibility we have in local communities to care for the wellbeing and dignity of others.
While to date it is a story of success and hope, it is framed by the knowledge of how much still needs to be done.
*In 2018 Port Phillip Housing Association changed its name to Housing First as it continues to expand its development of social housing both inside and outside of Port Phillip.
This article is the first in a series focused on social housing provision in Port Phillip.