Business, Charity and Settlement, Part Two The South Australian Housing Trust

Business, Charity and Settlement

Part Two
The South Australian Housing Trust 1987-2011


Business, Charity and Sentiment
Part Two
The South Australian Housing Trust

Susan Marsden

The South Australian Housing Trust has supplied a broad range of public and private housing across the state for more than 75 years. In doing so it has built and renewed suburbs and towns and contributed to the social and economic wellbeing of thousands of South Australians. Volume 1, covering the first fifty years, was published in 1986. In Volume 2 Susan Marsden draws on more contemporary and often contentious records and recollections to continue the Trust's story through the turbulent 25 years that followed, a time of profound social, environmental, political and public sector change.

It has been her earnest wish that readers would gain a greater understanding of the South Australian Housing Trust in the social and economic history of South Australia. She has certainly been able to do this in this publication. Any reader of her first volume, and this second volume will be impressed by the achievements of the Trust during its 75 years of operation providing housing and homes for many thousands of South Australians. What is even more remarkable is the fact that this was achieved against almost impossible odds.

By June 1938 the Trust had completed 84 attached houses. Three years later the number had reached 306, including 100 in the country. In 1986 100,000 homes had been completed as well as 1,850 flats for the aged. Three years later more than 110,000 had been built. During the decade following this achievement the Trust reached its greatest variety and extent, even going offshore to develop property management systems for social housing in China. For nearly 60 years the Trust built on average as many as 2,000 homes annually but after 1996 this dropped to about 200 a year.

Regardless of the massive building efforts South Australia still had the second longest waiting list for public housing in Australia. In 1986 there were 39,600 people waiting for a house which increased to 41,892 by 1992. Some waited for three months whereas others had to wait for up to 15 years, depending on circumstances, urgency or location. By the end of the twentieth century the Trust had bought or built over 120,000 homes, including housing for people with disabilities.

During the last 25 years the South Australian Housing Trust has seen innumerable and often major changes and challenges. Among some of the many problems faced by the Trust were political decisions to substantially reduce the housing program while at the same time making the Trust the provider of affordable housing to those in greatest need. By 2000 the majority of tenants were individuals and families on low incomes.

Special needs were redefined and now included mental health problems, homelessness, domestic violence, youths and the aged, drug addiction, low income, homelessness, country people, refugees, people with disabilities and those of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The Trust also gained such responsibilities as support for community housing, private rent assistance and Aboriginal Housing. Between 1988 and 1996 the Trust owned more than 60,000 dwellings, not anywhere near enough to satisfy all applicants.

During the last 25 years the Trustís efforts have also been affected by frequent changes of ministers, departmental heads, policy, board members, committees, sub-committees and Trust managers. Several ministers who had control knew little or nothing about housing and even tried to curb the Trustís independence. If all this was not bad enough there was also a decline of Commonwealth funding for public housing. At the same time the South Australian government changed a few times and each one in turn kept changing the name and responsibilities of departments and ministers dealing with housing.

There have been the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Minister of Housing, Minister of Housing and Construction, Minister of Urban Development and Local Government Relations, Minister of Urban Development, Minister for Human Services and a Minister for Housing. Last but not least the name of the South Australian Housing Trust was changed to Housing SA.

As early as 1986 there was a shift in emphasis from economic development to providing housing and related services for those in need and within their ability to pay. The South Australian Housing Trust Act 1995 ended the Trustís broad land development, industrial and commercial activities. As these had often provided the badly needed income to keep on building more houses and maintaining or upgrading old houses, the Trust was at times forced to sell old stock to generate an income to finance new ones. However by doing so it reduced the total supply available for an increased demand.

The increase in demand was caused by such factors as buying or renting privately, which had become beyond the reach of many who only received the basic wage, unemployed or elderly people. There was also an increase in applicants for housing who experienced a combination of financial and social disadvantages. Other factors which increased demand for housing were young tenants caught up in generational unemployment, the closing of mental institutions and the stateís childrenís homes. By 1990 more than 30% of new tenants were younger people.

Throughout its history living environments were strongly shaped by the Trust as an urban developer, builder and landlord. This has continued even during the last 25 years. The Trustís approach to supplying low-cost housing was now through urban regeneration in line with state planning changes and to curb suburban sprawl and promote consolidation. By demolition and rebuilding, the Trust, driven by economic as well as social imperatives, recycled old commercial and industrial sites as infill.

In doing so the Trust has been able to adapt once again to changed conditions and has transformed Ďmetro, fringe and countryí environments over the last 25 years and provided affordable and adaptive housing, with tracts of rental housing becoming something of the past. As a provider of public housing with secure tenure, affordable rents and a capacity to modify houses, the Trust was the best, and often only, option for tenants with, or without, disabilities.

During its 75 years the Trust has won national and State awards in everything from ecological sustainable house and subdivision design, disability accommodation and community participation to urban regeneration and many more.

This topical and informative publication by Susan Marsden has 293 pages, contains many photographs, footnotes, bibliography and an index.

Review by Nic Klaassen

Business, Charity and Sentiment Part Two
The South Australian Housing Trust 1987-2011
by Susan Marsden
is available at $29.95 from
Wakefield Press

Telephone 08 8352 4455


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