Above: CEO of Goodwin Aged Care Services, Chris Lamont

By Yasmin Noone

The social housing solutions that older people need and aged care providers want will soon be fed right through to Canberra, following the creation of a new expert advisory panel featuring a key sector representative.

CEO of Goodwin Aged Care Services, Chris Lamont, has been selected to form part of the 13-member advisory committee, established by the government last week in a bid to improve the current social housing system and gain sector opinion on how best to provide housing assistance for Australians in need.

As a former group manager of FaHCSIA’s Social Housing Initiative (under the Rudd government) and previous CEO of the Housing Industry Association, Mr Lamont comes with an in-depth knowledge, understanding and experience of the issues relating to both older people and the housing sector.

“I think [my presence on the committee] is recognition of the need to really focus in on the housing needs of older Australians,” Mr Lamont said. 

“There are an increasing number of older tenants whose housing needs are not being considered in a meaningful way by the housing [sector] or government until it is too late.

“…The population is ageing and we already have a short fall of housing supply. The real risk is that the most vulnerable will miss out. For some, that will be the older demographic in society.

“It’s absolutely critical that this committee considers housing for older people and looks into the supply issues.”

The committee will meet once a month for the next 12-months, issuing a number of advisory reports on how to boost the supply of social housing for Australians in need and ensure that support for tenants is effective and equitable.

“The issue in Australia is that housing is regulated within an inch of its life. It takes so long and there are so many mazes to walk through to put a product on the ground.

“We need a practical and pragmatic discussion about what the real issues are and how to apply [the rules] to get a product on the ground in a certain period of time that will address a serious deficiency of social housing stock in Australia.”

The first of the report series will be released in early 2012.

But, Mr Lamont explained, the last thing the government needs is another report identifying the need to act to increase the supply of social housing stock.

“What it needed is a report which identifies the solutions.

“I think [the solutions] really comes down to the mechanism of delivering housing – the three levels of government need to come together on this.

“Older Australians are going to be squeezed when it comes to finding accommodation to suit their needs. We need to look at how we can make investments work…and at the incentives to get the sector into this space.”

Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness, Mark Arbib, announced the committee will be chaired by Dr Jeff Harmer AO.

“For too long, the social housing system has been inadequate and it is time for governments of all levels to work together to reform social housing,” Senator Arbib said.

“Social housing is intended to be an effective safety net for Australians in need of support and help them to get back onto their feet – but there is a need for reform.

“The federal Labor Government has provided the largest single investment in social housing in history, investing $6 billion to build more than 21,000 new social housing dwellings. More than 16,000 are now complete.

“However, we have come off a history of extreme underinvestment and neglect of social housing, with 33,000 public housing dwellings lost to stock in the decade prior to 2007.”

Minister Arbib said committee members provided a breadth of knowledge and experience about housing, including backgrounds in finance, affordable housing, public housing and tenant needs.

Chair of the National Housing Supply Council, former director of Housing Victoria and former CEO of Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), Dr Owen Donald will also be on the panel along with Professor Julian Disney who is currently the chair of the National Affordable Housing Summit Group.

Three special panel advisors have also been appointed – Dr Tim Williams, the director of consulting company Publicani; Dr Ian Winter, executive director of AHURI; and Ross Jordan, company secretary of Defence Housing Australia.

“Innovative solutions for the future are required if we are to meet the shortfall of around 150,000 social housing homes by 2020,” said the minister. 

“There are currently more than 60,000 households on social housing waiting lists around the country, many of whom are waiting up to two years to be allocated a home.

“It is unacceptable that many Australians are without access to basic, affordable housing and it is my priority to ensure governments, the community housing sector, private financial institutions, and tenants’ organisations are working together to deliver a strong, sustainable future for social housing.”

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