Affordable Housing and Homelessness

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In speaking in debate on the Social and Affordable Housing NSW Fund Bill 2016, I note that to date governments of both political stripes have failed to create and maintain adequate public and affordable housing stock in this State.

In its pursuit of excessive surpluses, the interest of Coalition governments has been to suppress housing stock and to exacerbate the housing affordability crisis in which New South Wales finds itself.

It has to be said that the New South Wales Treasury is addicted to stamp duty. This week the Treasurer has been boasting about the cash reserves she has accumulated. Not only has this been done by overtaxing working class people, but also by sustaining cuts to vital services and government programs.

We have a skills shortage in New South Wales and the State Government cuts TAFE. In turn, employers complain of a lack of workers for skilled trades. In response, the Federal Coalition Government approves ever more skilled migration to fill the gaps in the skill set of our domestic workforce.

In turn, this puts more pressure on the already scarce housing stock. Increased demand for scarce housing inflates prices, which in turn adds to the value of stamp duty receipts at the Office of State Revenue.

In the meantime, the Baird Government barrels ahead—for no other reason than pig-headed ideology—with selling off public housing stock at Millers Point. It now wants to double down on that disgraceful legacy by turfing out the last remaining residents in the Sirius building at The Rocks.

After flogging off publicly owned social housing, it tells us that it has the solution—it will pay the private sector to create new housing stock to make up for the shortfall it created when it sold it off.

It will pay the private sector to create new housing stock to make up for the absurdity of a housing market that, year after year, outpaces wages growth and which, through its own actions, it has signalled it believes is already too strong.

While the Government relies on ever-increasing house prices to feed ever-growing stamp duty receipts, it wants to put a brake on wages growth. It has already given public servants in this State a wage cut every year for the past five years by limiting wages growth to 2.5 per cent—less than inflation.

That is the vision of the Coalition for New South Wales—wages flatlining, housing prices rising exponentially year on year, gutting or selling off public housing, and transferring the responsibility to the private sector and big charity.

The housing affordability crisis is forcing first home buyers to becoming first home landlords. The only homes that young people can afford to buy are those they must then rent out to others. This in turn puts upward pressure on rents as investors look to equalise their rental income and investment mortgage costs. The whole housing market for renters and buyers continues to grow unabated and it is working class people on low and middle incomes who are the victims.

Currently around 105,000 people in Australia are homeless and approximately 28,000 of them live in New South Wales. More than half are under the age of 35. Instead of building additional public housing, the Government has chosen to leave it to the developers, yet when it comes to affordable housing and social justice, the market has failed to put people before profits and deliver housing stock that is affordable to renters and first home buyers.

In the Blue Mountains, there is almost no public and social housing stock. The stock does not in any way meet the demand. As a result, there are long waiting times for prospective social housing tenants. Family and community service figures show waiting times as follows: more than 10 years for one bedroom properties; more than 10 years for two bedroom properties; five to 10 years for three bedroom properties; and five to 10 years for four bedroom properties.

I acknowledge the work done across my electorate by Wentworth Community Housing. I note it does the best it can with inadequate funding provided by this State Government, but it does its best nonetheless. I commend its current project, which is Heading Home-Ending Homelessness Here!

The bread-and-butter efforts of my electorate office are assisting my constituents who are experiencing a housing crisis, as well as people facing homelessness or destitution as a result of ever-increasing housing costs. Lack of affordable housing is one of the major reasons people visit my office in crisis.

According to Shelter NSW, New South Wales is currently facing a shortage of 100,000 affordable dwellings for families on low incomes. It is estimated that to address the social housing shortfall, the New South Wales Government must provide 20,000 affordable new dwellings over the next 10 years. This goes to show that the package on offer from the Baird Government is completely inadequate and unsatisfactory.

The expert advice to the Government is: Build 20,000 homes. The response from Mike Baird is: Make do with 3,000.

In addition to increasing the availability of public and social housing stock, the Baird Government must increase funding for maintenance and repairs to ensure that public and social housing tenants enjoy timely repairs and regular maintenance of their property.

Information contained in the recently released report from the Public Accounts Committee entitled "Management of NSW Public Housing Maintenance Contracts" highlights the points I have made. There is a growing gap, it clearly says, between the costs associated with maintaining public housing and the maintenance budget. There is a large backlog of remedial works across this State.

Recently one prospective social housing tenant in my electorate was referred to a vacant Housing NSW property. He was appalled when he got there. The windows were boarded up, cupboards were hanging off the walls, carpets and walls were filthy and the grass was knee high. He did not feel that it was a safe or fit place for him and his family. This is not an isolated incident.

The Labor Party will support this bill, but only because it would be reckless of us to oppose it on the basis of its absolute inadequacy. It is true that something, however inadequate, is better than nothing. So we accept that this bill should be supported, but I believe we need a radical rethink around housing affordability in this State.

This morning, at an event facilitated by the Sydney Alliance, I met with young people, students, workers and housing crisis services. The Sydney Alliance is one example of an organisation that is campaigning for increased supply of social and genuinely affordable housing in New South Wales as well as legislation to level the playing field for young first home buyers to enter the housing market. Members of the Alliance were out talking to parliamentarians. The Sydney Alliance's event showcased the remarkable efforts of a young student to bring housing affordability and homelessness into focus. Aryeh Berkovits is a 10-year-old student of Kesser Torah College in Dover Heights. Over the past few months, Aryeh has been working on a very special school project—the construction of a prototype shelter for homeless people. Aryeh hopes that one day it may be used to assist people in need, but in the meantime he wants to use his shelter to raise awareness of the problems of homelessness and housing affordability in our community.

This is commendable and impressive work, but it begs the question: Why has it fallen to a school student to demonstrate to the Government how unsustainable the current housing situation has become?

The gutting of public housing stock in the inner city, and the mistreatment of public housing tenants, is not the answer. Likewise, this legislation is not enough of an answer. It is a start—phase 1—but not enough. The problem is that it is very likely that this represents the extent of the Government's efforts and its interests in this area. Government members will pat themselves on the back because they have found yet another way to transfer taxpayers' money to the private sector.

The system the Government proposes is a fund of $1.1 billion that will pay a dividend that in turn will be used to fund development of new housing stock. The Government has no intention of becoming the owners or operators of any new social housing stock.

What does this mean for these homes at the conclusion of the 25-year service agreement contracts? In terms of the lifecycle of a State Government, and the likely lifespan of this very hopeless State Government, 25 years is a long time—but it is shorter than the standard 30-year mortgage.

So we are talking about housing that could very soon—relative to mortgaged homes and the even longer useful life of a dwelling—end up back in private hands.

What guarantees are there that the private operators of these new dwellings will not seek to capitalise on their investment in 25 years by flogging them off?

I support the bill, but I do not for one minute accept that this legislation represents an adequate solution to the absolute crisis in housing affordability that grips this State.

We must do more.