Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Public housing hiatus

Public housing tenants anxiously await news from the NSW Labor government about the future of their homes. Prior to the election, Ron Hoenig, the MP covering Waterloo, sent an authorised text to electors saying that “only Labor will stop the sell-off & privatisation of public housing in NSW”.

Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) is currently assessing developer proposals for Waterloo to shortlist two options. In April, after new Housing Minister, Rose Jackson, first met with LAHC, tenants at the Waterloo Redevelopment Group (WRG) were told LAHC hadn’t been told to stop work on the project so, until early May when LAHC expects to brief the Minister on Waterloo, business as usual continues.

The government made some immediate changes to its structure upon election, with wider restructuring referred to as “de-clustering” flagged for after June. The promised recombination of LAHC, DCJ Housing and the Aboriginal Housing Office into “Homes NSW” is likely to start then.

These Machinery of Government (MOG) changes take time until new executives get across their briefs; a high priority will be reviewing public housing maintenance contracts due for 2024 renewal.

A challenge for Jackson, as second most junior minister in cabinet, will be convincing Treasury to change public housing operating constraints and do things differently while competing with senior colleagues’ portfolio demands. Budget black holes are already being publicised, preparing the electorate for delays in delivering some promises. There was no financial commitment to fund new social housing in Labor’s election promises, only an aspiration in Labor policy. High hopes seem to be focused on federal funds held up in negotiations with the Greens.

Jackson will also need to hold off Planning Minister Paul Scully’s urgent search for new housing opportunities in Sydney along rail and metro lines. That was the last government’s rationale for the Waterloo estate redevelopment and the rezoning would provide some of the housing Scully urgently needs. The Labor government’s policy for 30 per cent social and affordable housing is the same as the previous government.

“I know there are residents there who are genuinely wondering what a change of government means for them, and where they’re going to live, and I do not want that uncertainty to continue any longer than is possible to avoid,” Jackson said recently in the SMH. Given the complexities, the full public housing picture might take some time to emerge from the hiatus.

Geoff Turnbull is a Co-spokesperson for REDWatch. REDWatch has asked the Minister to respect tenants and to deliver the news about Waterloo’s future to them before any media announcement.

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