Sunday, January 24, 2016

Social housing and its bold new future

Today the NSW Liberal Government has announced a new 10 year social housing strategy, Future Directions for Social Housing. The Sydney Morning Herald has called it "an historic decision to privatise public housing in New South Wales". We call it an incentive to fix the Residential Tenancies Act 2010.

It's true that one of the main thrusts of the strategy will be the redevelopment of estates, with all the uncertainty and anxiety that brings for tenants who start to wonder whose homes will be next to go... But it will also place an ambitious degree of faith in the private rental market to more or less "rescue" tenants from social housing.

Like the discussion paper that came before it, the strategy is based around three key pillars -
  • More social housing
  • More opportunities, support and incentives to avoid and/or leave social housing
  • A better social housing experience
Under each of these, the Land & Housing Corporation and FACS Housing will be given a series of tasks.

More social housing means:
  • the Land & Housing Corporation will increase their estate renewal and redevelopment activities. This will be "in partnership with the private sector" through the Communities Plus program. We'll be keeping our ear to the ground for details as each new development is announced, and making notes on our Clearing House blog. The strategy says "FACS will work closely with communities to avoid unnecessary disruption to tenants' lives". We certainly hope so.
  • ownership or management of more properties will be transferred to community housing landlords. The strategy aims to increase the proportion of social housing owned or managed by the non-government sector to 35%, and will require community housing landlords to assist with the Land & Housing Corporation's relocation needs when redeveloping estates. They'll also be required to report on tenant outcomes according to a set of targets - we'll be keeping an eye out for those.
  • the Government will be relying on proposed new funding models, such as the Social and Affordable Housing Fund and Social Impact Bonds - which means attempting to bring private finance into the construction of new and renewed social housing.
  • further attempts at tackling "under-occupancy".
More opportunities, support and incentives to avoid and/or leave social housing means:
  • Family and Community Services will "remove work disincentives" for public housing tenants. This includes revising policies that create work disincentives, and reviewing the rent setting model and eligibility criteria. This is really the good news.
  • trying to improve educational and employment opportunities for social housing tenants. They'll do this through the allocations system - providing houses for people who can work or study in areas with better access to jobs and schools. It sounds like a good idea, but it's just as likely to create further residualisation and stigma for those who miss out. They'll also try to create new employment opportunities for social housing tenants through new repairs and maintenance contracts.
  • introducing "Personal Support Plans" - where a "client" agrees to "realistic goals" in exchange for tailored supports and services. The architects of the Housing First model must be scratching their heads in wonder, and we're concerned about how these plans will interact with a residential tenancy agreement. What will happen to tenants who fail to achieve their goals? Will they lose their housing, as well as their tailored supports and services?
  • increasing the budget for Private Rental Assistance products, to try and convince more tenants to try and survive in the expensive and chronically insecure private rental market (which the government considers a form of "independence") where they will not need to rely on social housing assistance.
  • collaboration across the Whole of Government to better coordinate assistance. The problem is, FACS have forgotten to include NSW Fair Trading in the list of agencies they'd like to work with - even though they are in the midst of a review of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 and could work towards giving tenants greater stability, liveability and affordability in the private rental market.
A better social housing experience means:
It's a big plan - it reflects a high degree of ambition, for better or worse. It will present new opportunities as well as risk - particularly for public housing tenants, who will start to wonder just how secure their current tenancy is. But unless changes are made to the Residential Tenancies Act to give greater stability to tenants in the private rental market, the answer remains "comparatively so". Decamping to the private rental market should remain an option of last resort.

Most of all, this new strategy comes with a great big list of things to do. We'll be keeping a close eye on how FACS and the Land & Housing Corporation begin to work through its implementation, and how it progresses from here.

1 comment:

  1. Until such time as maintenance issues are addressed as a real problem, all I can see is that the 70% of private properties will be devalued.


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