NSW Budget a disaster for public housing

10 July 2017
NSW has a state budget that’s the envy of the Western World, the government tells us. What budget disaster? Well a budget blow out happens when too much money has been taken and not enough spent. That's not a success, that's greed (and funny how conservatives, those advocates of small government, love to hoard public money in surpluses).

Oh the government has plans to spend the money:

Photo: MP Dr Mehreen Farqui 

 But what about those in desperate need of public housing? There are 60,000 current applications awaiting public housing in NSW. With little investment in new housing, what does that look like?

 The emergency waiting list for public housing in NSW in most places in 2-5 years. Emergencies – that’s people sleeping in their cars, couch surfing, people escaping domestic violence, families living in cramped motel rooms. Just getting on the emergency waiting list can take several months. You must prove urgent need you cannot meet in the private market and a need to live in the area you apply for – kids’ schools, medical appointments.

The waiting list for everyone else is ten to twenty years. As a Housing NSW worker told me, on the Central Coast, the waiting lists are so long and turnover so slow, you’re not getting in unless existing tenants die.

That pretty much sums up current NSW public housing policy: wait for people to die.

 There’s little media attention on this issue. The media focuses on those being evicted from Millers Point. That is a terrible thing, and I’m not going to argue that public housing residents shouldn’t live in nice areas. But at least those people are being rehoused. They’re not being put out on the street.

 The elephant in the room – and they’re empty rooms – is a large percentage of the existing public housing stock is three and four bedroom houses lived in by older singles and couples. These are people who moved in their families in the 1970s the last time there was a decent expansion of public housing and have not moved out as their families have moved on.

The government has cited this oversupply of empty rooms as justification for not investing in new properties, but taken no further action. It's just an excuse. If the public housing supply is inefficiently managed, they need to invest in more one and two bedroom (and accessible) properties to house these ageing tenants, and use the family sized houses to house families (NOT sell them).

 But however they do it, they need to act. The media needs to draw attention to this. Whenever foreign aid budgets, refugee resettlement etc are discussed people say we need to look after our own. But we do look after our own – our own bankers, our own investors in public private partnerships. Looking after the disadvantaged though doesn’t seem to rate.


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