Public housing

494 candidates on the waiting list for public housing are vying for one of 16 new units in Katherine

In two weeks Gwenda Mace Woodroffe will be homeless.

For the past six years, the Rembarranga woman from the remote Northern Territory community of Beswick has been on the move, ferrying her belongings between short-term accommodation services and the overcrowded homes of family members.

“Sometimes I have to sleep in the tall grass,” Ms Woodroffe said.

Ms Woodroffe, who suffers from a chronic illness and eyesight problems after domestic assaults, added her name to Katherine’s social housing lottery six years ago to be closer to the hospital.

She hasn’t heard anything since.

More than 490 applicants are on a waiting list for a home in the Katherine area alone, according to the NT government.

Last year, only 36 requests were processed.

The government, in a joint initiative with Venture Housing, plans to build 16 new social and affordable housing units in Katherine.

The government must also introduce a $3 million private housing subsidy program for eligible low-to-middle income key workers.

Amid the huge demand, Ms Woodroffe could still wait years.

“I feel angry and frustrated why it’s taking so long,” she said.

Peter McMillan says there are nearly 500 families on Katherine’s housing waiting list. (ABC News)

years on the street

At 32 times the national average, Katherine’s homelessness rate is one of the highest per capita in Australia, said NT Shelter chief executive Peter McMillan.

He said there had been “historic underinvestment in housing”.

“In Katherine right now there are 494 families on the waiting list for public housing alone,” Ms McMillan said.

According to the latest government data, there are 496 public houses in Katherine, including 47 properties called industrial housing and 39 houses that have been allocated to community housing providers.

Candidates sleep rough, on average, for the better part of a decade waiting for a permanent, safe roof over their heads.

“They need twice as much housing as what’s out there right now for low-income and moderate-income people,” McMillan said.

Mr McMillan says an unequal share in the National Housing and Homelessness Accord, which distributes $1.6 billion annually to states and territories based on population, has not helped to alleviate the crisis.

“We get $20 million a year out of the total allocation… So that’s 1.3% of the total amount,” he said.

“Now it’s really currency.”

A blonde woman sits at a desk with her hands clasped.
Kate Worden says the government is investing $4 million in more social and affordable housing in Katherine.(ABC News)

‘The tip of the iceberg’

Katherine MLA Jo Hersey welcomed the 16 new homes but said “more needs to be done and it needs to be done now”.

“Sixteen houses are just the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

In addition to the $4million investment for the 16 new homes, Territorial Families and Urban Housing Minister Kate Worden said the government has awarded more than 230 stimulus contracts to Katherine’s businesses for modernization. social housing assets.

“One of my main priorities is to respond to the pressures of social housing in our urban centers [by] support the growth and development of the community housing sector,” she said.

“This strategy will include a strategic housing management pipeline, land packages and other redevelopment opportunities that aim to incentivize and attract non-government investment by community housing providers.”

A young man in a dark shirt sits in an office.
Eli Sherman says more crisis accommodation is needed to relieve city residents, who are generally at capacity.(ABC KatherineRoxanne Fitzgerald)

Nowhere to go

Eli Sherman is the coordinator of the Katherine Salvation Army Hub, which runs a walk-in service providing food, showers and washing machines to people who are homeless or at risk.

After collecting data for the past year, he says a short-term accommodation service in Katherine is essential.

“People staying [in Katherine] visiting friends and family, or visiting the hospital from communities where there are fewer services, can last anywhere from three days to 12 months,” Sherman said.

“But, again, they have nowhere to go, which puts additional pressure on people who actually have homes in Katherine and puts them at risk of losing those homes.