Tuesday, March 27, 2018

FACS Housing inner city exclusion policy won't work

A couple of weeks back you may have seen news reports that people convicted of drug supply or drug manufacture offences will now be excluded from public housing in a number of inner city Sydney suburbs.



FACS Housing announced the new Inner City Local Allocation Strategy at the end of February and immediately sent out letters to applicants on the waiting list for inner city areas. The letters informed applicants they are now required to consent to a criminal record check if they want to be considered for housing in Redfern, Waterloo, Surry Hills and Glebe. If they are found to have any drug dealing or drug manufacture convictions within the last 5 years applicants will then be excluded from these locations, although they may be offered a property in other inner city suburbs.

The strategy was introduced with no consultation with the range of organisations that generally assist the applicants, particularly those who will be impacted by its introduction. It is also unclear whether any consultation occurred with the residents of the local communities affected.

If we had been asked we would have told FACS straight out - we think this is bad policy. The strategy is deeply flawed and won't achieve the outcomes the Government is hoping for.

To begin with the strategy could be unlawfully discriminatory. In the Guardian story linked above, Community Restorative Centre points out the policy will disproportionately impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander applicants who make up 25% of people released from prison in the affected areas, as well as applicants with psycho-social disability (for example issues with mental health and/or addiction). It is not just those who have convictions who will be excluded, but also applicants who don't consent to a criminal record check or simply don't respond to the initial letter requesting consent to undertake the check. And we know there are a range of reasons - poor literacy or language barriers, change of address, illness, and so on - why vulnerable applicants might be flagged as 'no response' in the system and excluded on that basis.

What will be the impact for applicants in the area? Those who are excluded from Redfern, Waterloo, Surry Hills and Glebe because of a prior conviction will effectively be blacklisted from 77% of the public housing in the 'CS1' (Inner Sydney) area. By funneling a greater proportion of people into a smaller number of properties (the remaining 23% in Inner Sydney locations), this may mean a longer time spent on the waiting list to get into other housing in the area. There were 1740 applicants on the list for CS1 at 30 June 2017 and 5-10 year waiting lists for all property types.

Apart from the lack of consultation before its introduction, the strategy has also appeared to be rushed in its drafting and implementation. The only policy documentation that FACS has pointed towards when they've been asked for more detail on the strategy are a basic factsheet on FACS' website and a reference within their current Eligibility and Allocations policy that simply states allocation of public housing properties may be subject to a Local Allocation Strategy. Neither of these offer much practical guidance or detail on how FACS expect the strategy will be implemented and administered.

The policy has changed in a few significant ways in the last month. It changed from only applying to estates to now covering whole suburbs, from being policy to 'a one year trial', and originally applied also to people who had only been charged with offences, this has since been dropped. The latter two changes are positive, and likely the result of significant pushback from the housing and homelessness, legal and community sectors.

But perhaps most concerning is the 'perpetual punishment' approach of the strategy - the way it further penalises an individual who has already been punished. Mindy Sotiri, Program Director at the Community Restorative Centre, told the Guardian Australia:

“The key thing for me [about the introduction of the strategy] is that this is a really troubling precedent that extends punishment beyond the judicial system, which really has not worked anywhere ...


The whole point of the work that we do is saying ‘you might have done something wrong, but you’ve done your time, and now we’re going to give you every opportunity to build a life that’s not about going to prison’.”

Excluding people from housing in certain areas - where they might already be accessing support or treatment services, have employment, or have family or friends or other established supports - has the potential to undermine their attempts to reintegrate with the community and rebuild their lives.

What does work? Appropriately resourcing the support services and programs that help empower individuals and communities to address the underlying and complex issues leading to drug use and/or dealing. As Sotiri told the Guardian:

“It’s not very exciting politics to say ‘we’re going to tackle homelessness now’ or ‘we’re going to put case managers into the estates’. None of that sounds very exciting or innovative, but it’s actually what’s required.”

Just the basics (or what we know about the Inner City Local Allocation Strategy so far)

Who does this affect?
This will affect you if you are currently on the waiting list or will be applying in future for public housing in the CS1 (Inner City) allocation zone and CS3 (Leichhardt Marrickville) allocation zone. All public housing applicants who wish to be housed in the CS1 or CS3 zones will be asked to 'consent' to have their criminal record checked.

This does not affect existing tenants in the area.

This does not affect existing tenants in another allocation zone applying for a transfer into the area.

This should not affect you if you are a tenant subject to a management transfer or are being forced to relocate during the redevelopment of the Waterloo Estate.

How does it work?
When applicants are nearing the top of the waiting list they will be sent an information letter and consent form requesting consent for FACS to undertake a check. After receiving the form applicants will have two weeks to return their forms.

The check will involve sharing of information only in relation to drug supply and/or manufacture. No information on other convictions will be sought from NSW Police or received by FACS. If applicants do not consent to the criminal record check they will not be considered for housing in Redfern, Waterloo, Surry Hills and Glebe. Applicants who refuse consent for a criminal record check may still receive offers for housing in other suburbs in the CS1 allocation zone.

If the criminal record check indicates an applicant has a criminal conviction for drug dealing or manufacture in the last 5 years they will be excluded from housing in Redfern, Waterloo, Surry Hill and Glebe. They may still receive offers for housing in other suburbs in the CS1 allocation zone.

The 5 years is counted from the date when FACS make the inquiry of the Police.

What if an 'excluded' applicant has a good reason for wanting to live in the area?
Applicants excluded because of prior convictions who have a compelling reason for wanting to live in the area can appeal. FACS has not provided clear guidance around this but reasons might include things like having children in school or childcare in the area, established relationship with support or treatment services, family supports. Connection to the area will be considered for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander applicants. FACS has given some indication that requests for consideration will be sympathetically assessed.

Before requesting consideration on these grounds applicants will generally need to follow the general process and first consent to a criminal record check - though FACS has given some indication that if compelling reasons exist an applicant can approach directly to ask for an exemption from exclusion and avoid a criminal record check.

If excluded on the basis of a conviction an applicant can then appeal the decision and apply for consideration. FACS advises that internal reviews will be overseen by the district Director of Housing Services in the first instance. Applicants then have the right to an independent review by the Housing Appeals Committee if they don't think the decision was fair.

Need advice?
If you have received a letter about the Inner City Local Allocation Strategy and are worried about how it might impact you and/or require advice or assistance for an appeal against an exclusion get in touch with the local Inner Sydney Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service at Redfern Legal Centre.



3 comments:

  1. This is a discriminatory act on vulnerable people who have an addiction problem! Has anyone in this NSW LNP Government read the 'Housing & Mental Health Agreement' of 2012?
    How long before LNP Minister for FACS/Housing, Pru Goward and her government turns their attention to those vulnerable people with an alcohol problem or those with mental health issues? Will they be denied public/social housing within the inner-city? Also consider the people who have committed the most heinous crime of all,
    'being poor', Minister Goward has already began excluding them from aging in place in the inner-city! Refer to Millers Point!!!

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    Replies
    1. Great point - despite the commitment set out in the 2012 agreement to work together to improve outcomes for people with mental health issues and at risk of or indeed already homeless I suspect FACS did not consult with their Health colleagues before implementing this.

      For those interested in the agreement you can have a read here: https://www.housing.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/328660/HMHAGuidelines.pdf

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  2. Excellent discussion of issues. Also, worth checking the article in ‘The Conversation’ by Kev Dertadian of Western Sydney University. It’s called 'Public housing ban on people with drug records likely to do more harm than good, research tell us. You may read his article dated 3 April 2018 at: https://theconversation.com/public-housing-ban-on-people-with-drug-records-likely-to-do-more-harm-than-good-research-tell-us-93731

    ReplyDelete

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