Thursday, March 29, 2018

FACS: Alternative waiting list figure

On 20 March 2018 NSW Family and Community Services (FACS) Housing placed on their website updated information about waiting lists, which is now current to 30 June 2017.

They call it the 'Social Housing Expected Waiting Times dashboard' and the link is here.

The dashboard does not show historical figures, but the Productivity Commission's Report on Government Services shows the waiting list at 30 June 2017 across New South Wales has dropped significantly.

Source: Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 'Report on government services 2018', Productivity Commission, 23/1/18, Table 18A.5. Figures for 2012 to 2012 from previous reports. (You can view Table 18A.5 here.) This data excludes people who have applied for community housing only. Most applicants in NSW may be offered either community housing or public housing.
This news is too good to be true. As mentioned in our blog here, figures for 30 June 2017 exclude 'suspended applicants'. Suspended applicants won't be offered properties during suspension, but unlike closed applications, if their suspension ends their waiting time will be counted from the original registration of their application.

One way of thinking of the difference is that suspended applicants are assumed to want and be eligible for social housing, but there is currently a reason not to offer them a property. Closed applicants are assumed not to want or be eligible for public housing. For more detail see the 'Managing the NSW Housing Register Policy' page.

FACS Housing's dashboard has separated out 'General' and 'Priority' applications and also has made a notation that their figure for 30 June 2017 excludes 'suspended' applications and, accordingly, 'this data is not strictly comparable to published data in previous years'. Check here.

FACS Housing kindly has supplied the number of suspended applications at 30 June 2017. These stand at 5,499.

So, the total number of applicants on the waiting list at 30 June 2017 arising out of the additional information supplied by FACS Housing = 'General' + 'Priority' + 'Suspended' = 51,453 + 4,496 + 5,499 = 61,448.

The alternative waiting list figure at 30 June 2017 is 61,448.

We now are able to compare waiting list figures from previous years.
Sources: For Productivity Commission data, see foot of previous histogram. For FACS Housing data for 30 June 2017, check here and for 30 June 2016, check here. For figures for 30 June 2012 to 30 June 2015, check similar links to the last one. The 2017 figures shown above for both agencies include the 5,499 suspended applications. We have added these because suspended applications were included in previous years.

There has been a steady increase in waiting list numbers over the last five years. Indeed, FACS Housing's waiting list figures show an increase of just over 10 per cent in this period. This does not bode well for the future. Check out Nigel Gladstone’s recent article in The Sydney Morning Herald here on why more people are joining a decade-long wait for public housing in a queue that stretches past 55,000 people ... we say past 60,000 people.


It is unclear why the waiting list figures published in Table 18A.5 of the Productivity Commission's Report on Government Services (51,571) and those now published by FACS Housing (55,949) vary. Both exclude the number of suspended applications and both come from the same original source. Indeed, this has been the story for the last few years, although not so pronounced.

Further notations in Note (d) of Table 18A.5 here may tell some of the story:
- waitlist data should be used with caution as over counting may stem from the use of a single integrated social housing waiting list (since 2010) for public housing and SOMIH (which includes those who have also applied for community housing, but not applicants for community housing only).

- fewer waitlist applications were closed in 2015-16 because a review and redesign of the annual Housing Eligibility Review (HER) process delayed its completion until 2016-17. Data for 2016-17 may not be comparable to 2015-16 due to outstanding data remediation at that time.

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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

FACS and figures: Delving behind the figures for the waiting list and new social housing dwellings

Post authored by Robert Mowbray, Policy Officer - Older Tenants.

On Monday, 5 March 2018 the Minister for Family and Community Services, Pru Goward, sent out a media release
Hundreds of people on the social housing waiting list and hundreds more will have access to brand new homes as the NSW Government continues to deliver on its promise to build more housing through the sale of properties in Millers Point. ... We are assisting vulnerable people by building new social housing. ... To date, the Government has completed construction on 775 new homes with a further 372 under construction ... funded through the sales program so far.
Let’s delve behind the figures for the waiting list ... and other vulnerable people, and for new social housing dwellings in this State.

Waiting list

At 30 June 2017 the social housing waiting list in New South Wales remains in excess of 50,000 applicants.
Source: Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 'Report on government services 2018', Productivity Commission, 23/1/18, Table 18A.5. Figures for 2008 to 2012 from previous reports. (You can view Table 18A.5 here.)

The seriousness of this figure is reinforced by the fact that specialist homelessness services provided support to just under 75,000 people in New South Wales in 2016-17. (View Table CLIENTS.1 here.)

And, indeed, the recently released 2016 ABS Census ‘Estimating homelessness 2016’ data shows that the number of people who are homeless in New South Wales has soared by more than one third between the 2011 and 2016 censuses. On Census day in 2016 they numbered 37,715 people. You can check this out here. You can read more about this here.

In a recent article in The Conversation, Emeritus Professor Gavin Wood and others of RMIT University, assert that ‘public housing is the most important factor in preventing homelessness among vulnerable people’ and, further, ‘the empirical evidence also suggests that community housing fails to provide the same protection for people at risk of homelessness.’ Read their article here.

Yes, the Minister is correct in saying there are hundreds of people on the social housing waiting list. Indeed, over the last ten years this figure has been increasing. However, the figure at 30 June 2017 represents a decrease of 7,460 (12.6%) on the previous year’s. Note (d) in Table 18A.5 (referred to in the above figure) states that ‘data for 2016-17 exclude suspended applicants’. So what is meant by suspending an application? You will find the answer in a policy document here . FACS or a community housing provider participating in Housing Pathways may suspend (make non-active) an application for social housing or transfer for many reasons, including:
  • Pending receipt of further information or proof of social housing eligibility or housing requirements.
  • If a client is temporarily unable to accept an offer of accommodation because of:
    - being currently in prison;
    - illness, hospitalisation or holidays;
    - caring for a family member.
  • If a client has a debt from a former social housing tenancy of more than $500
  • If the client applying for a transfer has rental arrears, nuisance and annoyance breaches or any other tenancy breaches that are currently under investigation.
So, it appears that the reduction in the number of applicants on the waiting list in New South Wales over the last year may be due primarily to an ‘administrative cull’.

Other vulnerable people

No-one would disagree with the assertion that a very large number of people on the housing waiting list in New South Wales are vulnerable, given the state of the housing market.

But, let’s not forget the residents of Millers Point who were forced to re-locate.

Family and Community Services Housing kindly has provided the following information. At the beginning of the process there were 579 tenant and household members (in 399 tenancies) to be relocated. At 8 February 2018, 578 tenant and household members have either vacated or are committed to moving. One tenant is refusing to move. There are no tenancies remaining in the Sirius Building. During the course of the forced relocations, the sales of 28 properties in Millers Point were deferred. These were set aside for some of the remaining tenants and household members in November 2015. Of these, 21 are occupied by 19 tenancies.

The impact on the residents of Millers Point and the Sirius building who have been relocated has been traumatic for many. Their experiences have been documented by Professor Alan Morris in a report entitled ‘A contemporary forced urban removal: The displacement of public housing residents from Millers Point, Dawes Point and the Sirius Building by the New South Wales Government’, published by Shelter NSW here. Also, you may read Professor Morris's article called '"It was like leaving your family": Gentrification and the impacts of displacement on public housing tenants in inner-Sydney' in the Australian Journal of Social Issues here . In this article, Professor Morris places the events at Millers Point in a broader context. Watch this space for Professor Morris's forthcoming book with a similar title.

New dwellings

To meet such a massive need for social housing, it is worth asking whether there has been an increase in the number of such dwellings across New South Wales over the last three years.

We start to obtain a picture by looking at the Productivity Commission's 'Report on Government Services 2018' released in January 2018. Here we find the latest figures on the number of social housing dwellings across Australia. You can check these here . Table 18A.3 clearly shows that there was a net decrease in public housing stock in the three years to 30 June 2017 (latest published figures) by a figure of 584 dwellings.

Productivity Commission's 'Report on Government Services’ and other government data are not transparent about increases and what is affordable, as distinct from social housing.

Source: Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 'Report on government services 2018', Productivity Commission, 23/1/18, Table 18A.3. See Note (d) for correction to figure for 2011.

Over the same period, there has been net increase in community housing dwellings of 2,754 (after deducting National Rental Affordability Scheme tenancy rental dwellings).

Source: Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 'Report on government services 2018', Productivity Commission, 23/1/18, Table 18A.3. Community housing data include affordable housing. However, this table has been adjusted to omit National Rental Affordability Scheme community housing tenancy rental dwellings for 2016 and 2017, because these were omitted for previous years (see Note (d). Other affordable housing that is included is properties transferred over several years from the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Program.

A key question is how many public housing dwellings were transferred to community housing between 30 June 2014 and 30 June 2017. The Productivity Commission's report does not provide figures on the number of social housing dwellings transferred. Family and Community Services Housing advises that the number of properties transferred from public housing to community housing between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2017 was 679. This leaves us with an increase in community housing dwellings over the three year period of 2,075. Part of the increase in community housing stock in recent years comes from the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Program (NBESP). There are no published figures here.

So, there appears to be an increase in public housing of 95 dwellings, if we don’t count transfers to community housing.

Sales of Millers Point properties to 22 February 2018 number 172 (check here) and total $527.4 million (plus stamp duty of a further $28.3 million). You will find information about the public housing properties built with the proceeds of these sales here. 775 dwellings have been built up to January 2018, with another 372 under construction. To calculate the net gain from these proceeds, you will need to subtract 371 dwellings (399 less 28 retained dwellings) which represent the stock being lost in Millers Point.

Also, the number of public housing dwellings will have been reduced by properties demolished to allow for the new construction, and any dwellings removed from the stock as part of Communities Plus. These figures are unknown.

It is not unreasonable to assume that the need for social housing increases at least at the same rate as the population. (Indeed, in times of high housing stress, it should be greater) The rate of increase in social housing stock over the last three financial years is only a third of the rate of population growth in NSW.
Source: Population data from ABS at Jun 2014 and Jun 2017. Former viewed at: Latter viewed at:
The construction of new dwellings from the proceeds of sales of Millers Point properties represents small growth only. Yes, we have seen a steady, but modest stream of new supply. So, what of the future?

There is slim hope that the Sirius building can be retained as social housing. In mid-February of this year, the Tenants’ Union of NSW forwarded a submission to the NSW Planning and Environment arguing that future use of the Sirius site incorporate significant proportions of social and affordable housing, in addition to any private ownership of residential dwellings that may be permitted within the building to help give it a viable financial future. You may read our submission on their website here.

It is disappointing that sales of public housing are used to give very modest increases in stock at a time when the NSW Government ran a budget with a substantial surplus and, accordingly, had available to it substantial, alternative funds for its building program. What is also noteworthy was the lack of consultation before the decision to sell in Miller's Point.

Let’s hope that the future is brighter. On 14 August 2017, the Minister Goward announced the successful tenderer for the Ivanhoe Estate at Macquarie Park where social housing dwellings will increase by more than three-fold – from 259 social to 950 social and 128 affordable dwellings. (You can read about this in a media release here.) The NSW Government is pressing ahead with its Social and Affordable Housing Fund (SAHF) as ‘an innovative approach to the way we are delivering social and affordable housing in NSW’. You may read more about it here. On 12 September 2017, Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Minister Goward announced that the Government had now committed to a target of 3,400 new social and affordable dwellings through this fund, following 2,200 announced in March 2017. Check here. On 7 Feb 2018 the NSW Government officially opened the Expressions of Interest for the second phase of its Social and Affordable Housing Fund (SAHF), which will deliver up to 1,200 additional social and affordable homes. In this phase, at least 70% are to be social housing. Check here.