Friday, February 7, 2014

Fact based reporting: part 1 - social housing

There’s a lot of talk about social housing at the moment- the NSW government's select committee inquiry into social and affordable housing, the Federal government's senate committee inquiry, and nearly weekly updates from A Current Affair.
Last Friday, the Productivity Commission handed down its annual Report on Government Services, including a whole chapter on housing and another on homelessness. For those interested in the NSW information but too time poor to trawl through all 533 pages, we present a two-part series of brief digests of some of the most interesting parts relating to housing. The next post will deal with the Commonwealth Rent Assistance and housing stress.  We shall start today with some key indicators around social housing provision.
For context, at 30 June 2013, there were 137238 public and community housing dwellings in NSW which represents 4.9% of all dwellings in NSW. Of those, 136047 were occupied. 110000 were public housing and the remaining 26000 were community housing.
There were also about another 9000 dwellings that were either Aboriginal Housing Office or indigenous community housing which, amongst other organisations, includes land councils. The data is patchy for indigenous housing so we'll drop in and out of referencing those dwellings, despite their importance in understanding the social housing system in NSW. We’ll take a look at three aspects of the social housing system- the satisfaction levels of the tenants, the standard of accommodation, and the cost of service provision.
Satisfaction is a tricky thing to measure- as one bad aspect can throw out an otherwise satisfied tenant. The survey used does try to cover a range of factors and has been running over ten years now, making for a fairly reliable measure.
Overall, only 56.1% of Housing NSW tenants expressed some level of satisfaction – the lowest level nation wide, just beating out Western Australia, and well below the national average of 65.4%. It’s also down from previous results. 
Community housing fares better, 69.6% expressing some level of satisfaction. However this is another fall over time from much higher levels. Again unfortunately NSW had the lowest rate in the country though the figures were much closer together- the national average was 73.9%.
Satisfaction levels in public and community housing- on the way down
Part of why satisfaction is low might be the standard of the dwelling. Almost 68% of Housing NSW households passed an acceptable standard test- which we think sounds more like a minimum standard. To pass, properties need to have facilities for washing people, for washing clothes/bedding, for storing/preparing food, and sewerage and not more than two major structural problems. Perhaps we should say 32% failed to pass the test.
That means nearly 35700 Housing NSW dwellings do not meet that most basic standard.
In community housing, the pass rate is much higher at 81.4%- though that still leaves almost 5000 households in unacceptable standard dwellings.
Indigenous housing in general- both state owned and managed, as well as indigenous households community housing reached a significantly lower number meeting the acceptable standard. For instance NSW public housing households with indigenous family members have a rate of only 49.6% passing the acceptable standards test. There are a number of reasons that may affect this but aren’t explored in this report- higher proportionate levels of remote housing where maintenance is harder to come by, lower levels of engagement with housing providers, different forms of usage and relative age of stock are all factors which may play a part.
Providing social housing costs clearly, and luckily (for some) we’re below the national average for spending per dwelling on public housing- quite an achievement in one of the most expensive housing markets in the world!
The net cost for housing a tenant in public housing in NSW is $7751 a year, or $21 a day. Even in adjusted values, this is on an upward trend, whilst the number of dwellings is falling. For comparison, the cost of support for a homeless person expressed in a yearly amount is $9490 and average cost for housing a prisoner is over $77000 a year!  For those wondering about their hard earned tax dollars- it costs each person in NSW $163 per year to fund our public housing system.
Finally, let’s look at rent collection- contrary to what you might imagine if listening to some sections of the media, public housing tenants paid 99% of the charged rent in 2012-2013. Of that 731 million dollars charged, slightly more than 7million was outstanding as at the 30 June 2013, or a measly $66 per household for the year. It is important to remember that this figure will include accounts that are already under payment arrangements. Also worth noting this is $31million more income than HNSW forecast in the Auditor-General’s report last year.
Community housing tenants and tenants in AHO properties both managed to pay more than 101% of their rent in the most recent year report (2011-12), again showing the effect payment arrangements have on these numbers.
Next time, we’ll recap what the Productivity Commission has to say about CRA and low income households.

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