The government hopes the measures will address the growing gap between the demand and availability of public housing, with waiting lists expanding by an additional 3,500 families since it won office in 2011.
“The simple truth is that the system has failed to keep pace with increased demand and changing demographics,” said Gabrielle Upton, Family and Community Services Minister. “We must accept that, despite the best of intentions, the current system fails tenants … One of the main objectives of this government is protecting the vulnerable in our community, which is why we are determined to make improvements to the social housing system.”
However, the paper has drawn the ire of critics, who point to the government’s social housing budget cuts, and recent sell-offs of public housing, as proof they are not sincere in addressing the growing housing crisis.
“The Liberals have cut the budget to build new social housing in half since they came to office, and they have sold more social housing than they have built,” said Sophie Cotsis, Shadow Minister for Housing. Ms Cotsis told reporters that these measures have resulted in 6,000 fewer homes throughout the state.
The paper has also been criticised for the issues it omits. In particular there are concerns about the future of those moved into private housing. “If the NSW state government really wants to help those on the waiting list, and make ‘transitioning’ out of social housing a realistic prospect, it must discuss reforming the private rental market too,” wrote Chris Martin, Senior Policy Officer of the Tenants Union of NSW, on the Union’s blog.
With rents in Sydney amongst the highest in the world, it’s feared that moves to transition social housing tenants into the private sector could place them at risk of severe financial stress. According to the 2011 Census, 78 per cent of low-income households reported paying more than 30 per cent of their income in rent. Further research has shown that three out of four of these households face a constant struggle to pay regular bills.
“It is about ‘metrics’ – getting people in and out of the system as fast as possible without any real understanding of the problems facing low income and vulnerable people,” said Irene Doutney, Greens Councillor for the City of Sydney and public housing advocate.
“The government wants to push people through the housing system so that their ‘metrics’ will look better – more people in, more people out – but it makes no comment on how people who can’t afford to live in this unaffordable city now are suddenly going to be able to move from subsidised housing to unaffordable market rent.
“Every new statement or document that comes out of the Liberal state government is another nail in the coffin of public housing and government for the well-being of all members of society. The very idea that the private sector, which is all about making a profit, could manage a complex human services system beggars belief but is the mantra of the Upton ministry.”
With the waiting list for public housing expected to blow out to 86,000 by 2016, it’s clear that this is a sector in dire need of reform. At present it’s unclear whether this new discussion paper will aid or abet that process, however it is the Liberal party’s first step toward forming a new social housing policy – though it’s unlikely this will be ready in time for next year’s election.