City News

Our public housing failure

Linda Scott says more money is needed for new housing and building maintenance

All levels of government, including the City of Sydney, are failing to ensure the adequate provision and maintenance of social and affordable housing, Labor councillor Linda Scott has said.

In her submission to a state parliamentary inquiry, Cr Scott calls for urgent investment in public housing capacity and maintenance.

“I have seen housing in Redfern, in Waterloo, in Miller’s Point, in Erskineville in the most terrible state of disrepair – people living in squalid conditions that you should not see in a first-world country like Australia,” she said.

In an interview, Ms Scott said she had personally witnessed hallways littered with needles, walls covered in bodily fluids, holes in windows and roofs that go unrepaired for months and mould which residents claim is making them ill.

She said the City is wealthy enough to contribute to fixing the problem, even if it remains primarily a state government issue.

“It’s not any one level of government’s responsibility, but a council like the City of Sydney should be taking a leading role,” Cr Scott said.

“We have zero funds in our budget for affordable housing.”

The Labor councillor, who has previously indicated she will make affordable housing a policy priority in the coming year, said the city’s dearth of affordable places to live means we will lose key workers like nurses and teachers.

“We risk not being able to have artists and volunteers and people on low wages living in our inner city, which will affect the diversity that I love about Sydney,” she said.

The median house price in the City of Sydney LGA is $965,000 or $630,000 for a unit. The median house price in the 2010 postcode, which takes in Darlinghurst and Surry Hills, is $1.1 million. The median price of a home for all of Sydney is $690,000 and $492,000 for a unit, according to Australian Property Monitors data.

Cr Scott proposed at February’s ordinary council meeting to “conduct an audit of the possible policy strategies the City of Sydney could legally undertake to improve housing affordability and affordable housing stock in the local government area”, and produce a report based on that audit.

The motion also noted that the Department of Family and Community Services has declared the City of Sydney an area in “high need” of more affordable housing, and that the City did not provide a single new affordable housing unit in fiscal year 2012/13. The motion was rejected by council.

Instead, a successful motion was put by Deputy Mayor Robyn Kemmis which noted the council’s “ongoing advocacy” for the state government to provide more such housing in the City of Sydney.

Cr Scott said a council “as well off as the City of Sydney” could afford to go beyond the bread and butter issues of “roads, rates and rubbish”.

Submissions to the parliamentary inquiry closed on Sunday. A submission by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre was critical of Housing NSW, raising concerns about inflexible policies and a lack of training for staff in communicating with the mentally ill.

It said more needs to be done to ensure those with mental health issues aren’t placed in housing where “they may feel at risk, unsafe, or where the accommodation is otherwise inappropriate”.

The centre called on Housing NSW to identify social housing tenants in financial hardship, by way of their rental history, and provide “warm referrals” to welfare support services.

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