The New South Wales Government has released a 10-year housing plan, Future Directions.
The 20 page document that has been released provides a broad based sketch of the Baird Government’s plan. For this reason, conclusions should be delayed until the detail of the actual proposals is released.
There are clearly components of the plan that will be controversial but at least having a plan is a good starting point. We hope that this is more than an aspirational statement and we want to see the detail on how the plan will be funded. The Victorian Government would do well to consider which elements of the NSW plan should be applied here. We congratulate the Baird Government on producing this plan and hope that it will represent the best interest of tenants and the community.
The proposals contained in the Future Directions plan are briefly summarised below;
- the strategy hopes to stimulate an estimated $22 billion in housing construction
- 3,000 social and affordable dwellings to be delivered through the Social and Affordable Housing Fund
- transfer of management of up to 35% of public housing stock to the community housing sector
- the community housing sector and the private sector to deliver up to 23,000 new and replacement dwellings
- large scale redevelopments will feature 70% private housing and 30% social (eg Macquarie Park currently has 259 public housing dwellings, it will have 1,800 private dwellings, 556 social and 128 affordable)
- the Government will seek to reduce the current 14% under-occupancy rate in public housing
- the Government will target a 5% increase in public housing households transitioning to the private market
- private rental assistance levels will increase from 27,000 households today to 37,000 in 2025
- the Government will seek to better utilise available public land
- new maintenance contractors will be required to provide better employment opportunities for public housing tenants
- private rental subsidies such as Rent Choice to be available to 2,500 families by 2025
- the family violence program Start Safely will be expanded to 3,500 families
- more ‘joined-up’ service delivery with education, health and justice
- the Government will target an increase in tenant satisfaction from 65% to 75% by 2020
- the Government will seek to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the maintenance program
- the Government will seek to improve FACS customer service
- Neighbourhood Impact Statements will be introduced to give tenants a voice in responding to anti-social behaviour.
If the plan is implemented there will be large numbers of tenants displaced during redevelopments, or due to under-occupancy initiatives. The plan undertakes to “avoid unnecessary disruption to tenants’ lives”. However recent projects have led to protests and high levels of tenant dissatisfaction. It remains to be seen if FACS can implement a process that tenants can have confidence in.
A weakness of Future Directions is its reliance on a private rental sector that is already significantly overheated throughout much of Sydney and in major regional centres. Aside from some general assertions about increasing affordable housing, there does not seem to be a comprehensive strategic approach to reforming the sector that will be so central to the success of the Baird Government’s plan.
The plan also proposes to enforce automatic rent deductions from tenants who receive Commonwealth payments. While we recognise that there can be positive outcomes for tenants who opt to have rent deducted, we would question whether removing the power to choose will materially impact on levels of arrears or evictions.
Another measure that requires further examination is the one-strike policy. The plan outlines that tenants may be evicted where they are found to be in serious breach, however no detail is provided to describe what may constitute a serious breach.
Finally, there is a proposal to introduce a bond of up to $1,400 for new public housing tenants. The likely outcome of this is that it will increase the barriers being faced by some of the most disadvantaged people in our community.
While the plan purports to be a comprehensive strategy, it also contains proposals to initiate further reviews, such as a review into rent models. This suggests that Future Directions is not so much a plan as a current summation of policy.
Clearly infrastructure growth and economic stimulus will play a big part in the success of the plan.
A major factor in its success will be how well it is communicated and understood by tenants and the community as a whole. The communication strategy will be critical.
We look forward to seeing how this plans rolls out in NSW and what alternatives or additional elements are proposed by the other political parties and key welfare groups.