Editor’s Desk: Our most vulnerable deserve better than the current public housing backwards trend

Headshot of Kate Campbell
Kate CampbellGeraldton Guardian
An example of a boarded-up home in Spalding.
Camera IconAn example of a boarded-up home in Spalding. Credit: Anna Cox/RegionalHUB

At a time when demand for public housing is so desperate and the waitlist so long, it would be common sense to expect the State Government is doing everything it can to maximise its stock.

Makes sense, right? So you would think that the number of vacant and boarded-up properties would be at a bare minimum. Because every property in this current climate is priceless when there are so many vulnerable people out there, either on the brink of or experiencing the grim reality of homelessness. And who definitely can’t afford to pay current rental prices.

So it was alarming to say the least last week when data from the Department of Communities revealed the number of vacant public housing has been steadily rising over the past five years. At the end of March, there were 143 empty public housing properties in the greater Geraldton area and 238 in the Mid West-Gascoyne region.

If the majority of those properties were available, it would make a significant dent to the public housing waiting list which currently sits at 728 in Geraldton, 152 of which are priority cases.

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Drive around certain suburbs of Geraldton and it’s a common sight to see homes abandoned and boarded-up. Some might just need some minor refurbishments to make them habitable again, while others are probably beyond any repair and hope. So why not just try to sell those off and reinvest?

We all know the construction and labour markets are hampered in a vice-like grip at present, but the question remains: is it acceptable that the State Government has let the amount of vacant properties rise over the past five years? No, it is not. Not when the alternative is seeing more people veer into homelessness.

Since the Guardian’s story last week, two examples have emerged which are equally as exasperating as they are bleak.

A unit of 10 recently refurbished public housing units in Spalding are ready to go and be occupied, except for one issue. They need to be connected to the power. Yet, according to Western Power, they are so busy this could take another five months to get around to.

And then a local church made the tough decision to close down its crisis accommodation cottage, which has the capacity to house up to 10 people, and evict the residents because they can’t keep up with the costs anymore and haven’t been able to attract any government support.

Both these cases are not the be-all and end-all solutions, but they are part of the big picture that aims to help those in need and crisis. And to see them delayed or close up entirely indicates to me we are taking backward steps when it comes to helping our most vulnerable.

I don’t have the solution, but at Budget time, I sure hope there is an adequate amount allocated to tackle this growing crisis. And that the people we put in power have the ability to think more outside the box.

Because surely people in these desperate situations deserve better. They should be first in the queue to benefit from any government action. Because after all, they bear most of the brunt of government inaction.

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