City Hub

Social housing in the firing line

photo by Ben Rushton

By Christopher Harris


A Family and Community Services (FACS) spokesperson, speaking for Minister Gabrielle Upton, has refused to rule out the sell-off of inner city social housing properties, specifically Glebe and Woolloomooloo.

The statement from the department comes after the government released a Social Housing discussion paper last week, with the aim of improving the sector.

The sale of Miller’s Point has proved to be a lucrative coup, with property prices reaching high above initial expectations.

“The Department of Family and Community Housing regularly reviews its public housing portfolio to address priorities for housing for those most in need,” the spokesperson said.

Questions are also being asked as to the ability of department of Housing NSW to address its waiting list of 55, 000 people after spending for new dwellings every year has been halved to $120 million in the 2014 budget, since Labor’s 2010 budget.

A spokesperson for Housing NSW said “the Discussion Paper proposes that the overall objective of the new system is to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable people, within the constraint of government funding.”

“It is important that people, tenants, community members and organisations are given an opportunity to contribute innovative ideas on how the system can be improved so that it provides people with more opportunity and pathways to independence and the system can be made more fair and sustainable.”

Greens MP Jamie Parker has spoken out against the plan, questioning whether the system could be saved with that amount of funding.

“The Government’s obnoxious and erroneous view that more public housing tenants should be fending for themselves shows how out of touch they really are,” he said.

His personal experience in his own electorate has brought the issue of social housing to the forefront of his agenda.

“I endeavoured to assist a couple who lost both their business and home after the husband was diagnosed with a serious illness and the wife had to leave her job to become her husband’s full-time carer. They came to me for help after finding the Department unhelpful when requesting a transfer to a ground-floor unit which he could access with a wheelchair. They have paid their taxes, worked hard and employed people in their business and now need the Government to support them after an unforeseen crisis” he said.

Independent member for Sydney, Alex Greenwhich suggested that the focus had to be shifted onto prevention.

“More people moving out of subsidised housing may help others get in, but will further reduce rental income needed to cover costs. Helping younger people get training or jobs is more likely to be useful, but many tenants are ageing, have significant disabilities or complex health problems and this won’t work for all so must not be imposed,” he said.

Media last week have also highlighted the government’s intention to sell off the Sirius building in The Rocks, despite the fact it was purpose built in the 1970s for social housing tenants.

A department spokesperson said the sale of social housing is vital to the efficiency of the department.

“Like any owner of a large property portfolio, the Government continually reviews its public housing portfolio to improve the overall number, condition and standard of properties provided,” the spokesperson said.

“Successful portfolio management requires a number of strategies – acquisitions, construction, redevelopment and sales. All proceeds from sales of public housing will be reinvested into the social housing system. This will allow more people to be assisted in the future.”

Alex Greenwhich, said that the aims of the report were fair, but reiterated that social housing is not the only area to be addressed.

“Social housing is only part of the overall housing system, and the government needs to grapple with hard questions about federal government housing priorities, subsidies to investors, planning incentives for low cost and affordable housing and home owners and better targeting rent subsidies,” he said.

“There is a severe lack of affordable housing and more people are being priced out of the market to buy or rent, especially in the inner city. Yet the government has undermined planning measures that would help councils get low cost housing in all development. We need a whole-of-government plan. We should have had a plan before now, and it should have been taken to the March election.”


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