Testing the boundaries of social housing: a case for flexibility in rural communities

An open letter to community housing providers from Fiona Lindsay OAM,  President of Dunolly District Hospital Auxiliary

Housing for low income people in rural communities is often overlooked; after all, populations are small and dispersed and there is such a significant and documented housing need in metropolitan areas that community housing resources and energy are well and truly committed in Melbourne and regional centres.

Over the last 20 years, the Dunolly community has identified the potential benefit of constructing Independent Living Units adjacent to the Dunolly District Hospital to provide continuity of housing and accessible healthcare for local and district residents, many of whom are physically and socially isolated and living in insecure and/or unsafe housing.

In 2018, the Dunolly District Hospital Auxiliary, with the active commitment of the Maryborough District Health Service, commissioned a comprehensive feasibility study to dig deep into our demographic profile, document our housing issues and review if building a cluster of up to 20 Independent Living Units was financially viable.

Consultations with three social housing organisations with regional experience were extremely helpful and shone a light on the limited potential to address our community’s needs under current guidelines for social housing.

Three conclusions stand out from the report:

  1. many local ageing residents experience an acute ‘Catch 22’ when they need to move into housing that better suits their needs; their assets exceed eligibility for social housing but are insufficient to buy into private and not-for-profit housing programs.
  2. survey respondents identified a preference to transition, when required, from home to a local Independent Living Unit with access to support and then to local residential aged care.
  3. there is potential economic benefit for the community not only during construction, but by keeping spending dollars in town and enabling employment in health and associated services.

If you can no longer safely drive, have no air conditioning in a poorly insulated house, can’t afford to make your house safe from electrical faults or have white ants demolishing foundations and walls, then the status of ‘home owner’ is more of a burden than a benefit.

We can only hope that the guidelines for social housing published last year as Homes for Victorians can encompass a more flexible approach to assisting older, rural people see out their lives living independently in their own community.

The Dunolly District Hospital Auxiliary, on behalf of our community, hopes that members of CHIA Vic will consider the distinctive housing needs of older, rural people and can test if the revised guidelines for social housing may accommodate a more flexible model than has been possible previously. Our community is happy to work with a registered housing organisation to pursue this matter as a pilot project.