BY MICK DALEY
Community groups and Greens Member for Newtown Jenny Leong have reacted angrily to a NSW Government Local Allocation Strategy which could exclude hundreds of people from accessing public housing in the inner city.
Letters sent from the Department of Family and Community Services to people on waiting lists for housing in Glebe, Waterloo, Redfern and Surry Hills have demanded they fill in a FACS Consent Authority form to undergo a criminal record check conducted by NSW Police.
The check will look at convictions relating to drug manufacture and/or drug supply within the past five years. Any residents found to have such convictions will be refused housing in these areas.
Leong says that this letter indicates an ideological agenda by the NSW Liberal Government to further punish people who have already paid their debts to society.
“We have concerns about the punitive nature of the local allocation strategy that targets people who are in need of help and support rather than more punishment,” she told the City Hub.
“We need to recognise that public housing is provided to people that are in need of a secure place to live and the idea of rolling out a strategy that prevents certain people from accessing housing is hugely problematic.”
A FACs factsheet claims that the strategy is a necessary adjunct to its community protection strategies. It reads:
“The purpose of a Local Allocation Strategy is to enhance the sustainability of communities by addressing specific community issues or needs.
“If you have a record of criminal convictions relating to drug manufacture and/or drug supply within the past five years, you will not be offered a property in Redfern, Waterloo, Surry Hills or Glebe.”
A failure to respond to these letters will also result in people being locked out of housing.
Leong says that she has been working with residents in her constituency and been participating in neighbourhood advisory boards in social housing community meetings.
“We know that there are real concerns that residents have about safety in some of the public housing areas, but we’re also aware that public housing tenants know that the reduction in funding by the Liberals has actually resulted in them having to bear the brunt of a whole lot of the mental health and drug addiction problems that people have in our society.
“People have the right to be able to feel safe in their own homes, to live in a community where they don’t feel that they are in risky circumstances, but public housing tenants understand that the way to solve this is by providing additional drug and alcohol support, rehabilitation support and mental health support to those in need. Not by enacting punitive measures that are about perpetually punishing people associated with drug convictions.”
Leong also took issue with the process of the strategy rollout, which frustrated clients and community workers.
“From the way this has been rolled out that the minister’s office, FACS and community services on the ground are unclear about so many elements of this policy. We know that the minister’s office was not happy with the original letter that went to all people on the waiting list, and we also know that local services that are providing support on the ground to people in this situation are completely unclear on what the appeals process is and what the time line is, revealing this now being presented as a trial.”
“I think this is the latest example of what is continual incompetence being shown by the FACs minister. The community is sick of the minister trying to introduce these new approaches when in actual fact she should be doing what her primary role is which is to provide people with housing support and community services rather than targeting those most at need.”
A Guardian Australia story quoted a community worker who said that few, if any of the targeted people will respond to government letters, meaning that a significant group of clients will be excluded from waiting lists.
In response to these comments a FACs spokesperson told the City Hub;
“The suburbs included as part of the local allocation strategy were identified as high risk areas for drug dealing in consultation with the NSW Police.
“BOCSAR statistics show that the large majority of people who reoffend do so within five years.
“The new inner city allocations policy aims to further improve the safety of residents by reducing the temptation for people who have a history of drug manufacture or serious drug supply to re-offend by not housing them in suburbs identified as honeypots for drug dealing. Instead, these people will be housed elsewhere in the Inner City.”
But Jenny Leong remains unconvinced.
“Given the recent fudging of the public housing waiting list numbers by the department, we are calling on the Minister for Family and Community Services to immediately reassure the public that this latest ‘strategy’ isn’t a cynical ploy to further reduce the waiting list without actually housing anyone.”