Public houses in the Northern Territory are sitting unoccupied for months on end while thousands live in severely overcrowded homes or sleep rough, data suggests.

Key points:

It is taking the NT government an average of 136 days — 86 more than the national average — to process new tenants into affordable, urban social houses, according to the latest federal report on government services.

In some remote areas, homes are sitting vacant for much longer.

Urban Housing Minister Kate Worden said inspections and maintenance had to be carried out before new tenants could move in, but deaths, abandonments, reference checks, a shortage of contractors and major upgrades could delay the process.

But Peter McMillan, the executive officer of the Northern Territory’s peak housing body NT Shelter, says the wait times — which have seen some languish in limbo for more than eight years — are unacceptable.

“The performance of government in this area has really deteriorated pretty significantly over the past 20 years,” he said.

“Other states and territories are turning their stock around in about 36 to 40 days on average, so we are miles out of whack with the rest of Australia.

“Non-government housing providers are expected to turn stock around in 14 days, or 42 days at most if there is significant damage that needs to be repaired, and they are achieving that.

“There really isn’t any reason why this stock has been taking so long to turn around.

A man sits in an office looking sternly at the camera.
Peter McMillan from NT Shelter says the cost of Territorians sleeping rough while the government processes forms and fixes damaged public housing is in the order of $2 million every year. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

‘Really been sold out’

At the turn of the century, the NT government was turning around public housing stock in 29 days.

There were 7,451 houses owned and managed by the government and 1,829 applicants on the waiting list, according to the report.

There were even more houses dating back into the ’90s, Mr McMillan said, but a lot of those had since been demolished or sold off.

The latest data shows that at the end of 2021 the government was in charge of 4,929 houses.

The public housing waitlist, meanwhile, has soared to more than 5,700 applicants, including transfers, with almost 1,000 people added in the 18 months to the end of 2022.

“Unfortunately, public housing tenants have really been sold out,” Mr McMillan said.

“We’ve now got around 30 per cent fewer houses than we did, while our public housing waiting lists are about two-and-a-half times as long.

Ms Worden said the government was “always working to cut wait times” by building new dwellings through the capital construction program, which in December tipped $21 million into builds across Darwin, Palmerston, Katherine, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.

Kate Worden sits at her desk in the Northern Territory.
Ms Worden says the government is doing its best to improve the situation.(ABC News)

Call for ‘urgent’ review

The CLP Member for the Alice Springs seat of Braitling, Josh Burgoyne, said the party was calling for an urgent review into the government’s slow turnaround times.

He said he wanted to see more emphasis put on the housing crisis.

“Housing is such a vital thing for Territorians right across the NT,” he said.

A man stands in front of a tree in the Northern Territory.
Josh Burgoyne says the Country Liberal Party is calling for an immediate review into the delay.(ABC News: Owain Stia-James)

Mr Burgoyne said there were more than 50 empty houses in Alice Springs alone and referenced alarming crime rates in the Red Centre as a potential consequence.

“There have been many programs over the past that have been utilised, including one that I actually worked with previously where people working through the corrections facility would come and assist with getting those houses up to a standard to be reoccupied,” he said.

Mr Burgoyne said he understood the program had been shut down a number of years ago, but more like it would be beneficial.

Mr McMillan said amid a homelessness rate 12 times the national average and rises in public housing stock elsewhere in Australia, more homes were needed in the NT.

He also welcomed the NT government’s plans — still yet to be finalised — to hand over the management of public housing to non-government organisations.

“There are community housing organisations that are registered professional organisations that are good at maintaining tenancies, managing tenants, and repairs and maintenance function,” Mr McMillan said.

“We know that under their legislation, they’re expected to turn stock around in 42 days, at the most, and often in 14 days.

“So these organisations provide a viable alternative to the current public housing system that we have in the Northern Territory … where really everybody is in agreement that the current public housing system is broken.

Source : NEWS