NSW embarks on historic social housing reform
Cameron Jewell | 28 January 2016
More social housing, better opportunities and support to get out of social housing, and a better experience for those going through the system are the strategic priorities of sweeping reform to how social housing is delivered in NSW, according to the state government.
By leveraging the private sector, the government says the policy shift is set to unlock $22 billion in construction and 23,500 desperately needed social and affordable houses.
Ten years in the making, The Future Directions For Social Housing in NSW plan involves transferring ownership of public housing to the private sector, which will be able to redevelop lots with a 70:30 ratio of private to social housing, which would provide an incentive for development, as well as creating more integrated communities.
Management of government-owned dwellings will also be transferred so that 35 per cent will be owned or managed by the community housing sector.
According to social housing minister Brad Hazzard, he wants people in the social housing system to be “aspirational, not generational”. As such, private rental assistance products will be increased by 60 per cent to help households leave or avoid social housing.
“We are looking to the innovation of the private and non-government sectors to redevelop old public housing estates into mixed communities which will put thousands of people in social housing on a better path,” Mr Hazzard said.
“Children in social housing should not see disadvantage as their only future. It does them good to see their neighbours in private housing going to a job each day.
“The NSW Government is committed to reducing homelessness and breaking the cycle of disadvantage. Providing more social housing and ensuring the necessary support services are available for those in social housing is vitally important.
“We’re also providing support and incentives to help people successfully transition out of the social housing system, and assistance to help people avoid entering it in the first place, with more support to vulnerable households in the private rental market.”
He said while there were some people that needed social housing for the long-term, there were those for which is should be a stepping stone.
“We will provide opportunities for those people to get training, find a job and move into the private rental market.”
Industry welcomes new direction
The news was welcomed by both the community housing and development sectors.
NSW Federation of Housing Associations chief executive Wendy Hayhurst said the Future Directions paper provide a much-needed framework for tackling the state’s housing crisis.
“The government’s own figures show 150,000 families on low to moderate incomes are in housing stress, so fresh approaches are really needed,” Ms Hayhurst said.
“With the right government support and investment this plan could provide more homes on the ground – for people on public housing waiting lists and for families struggling to find anywhere they can afford to rent.”
Ms Hayhurst said the Federation was calling for the government to transfer 30,000 homes to the community sector over the next two years.
“Community housing organisations are already investing in employment and education services for many thousands of people living in social housing. We can do even more,” she said.
“In the past five years the largest 20 providers have increased the homes they manage by 60 per cent and used the surpluses they have made to reinvest in building more homes for people who need them the most.
“Unlike the private sector there are no shareholders to pay – every dollar is used to improve services and build more homes.”
The Urban Taskforce said now was the right time to privatise public housing, and that more density was needed in developments.
“The renewal of public housing estates only works if they are redeveloped with a mix of private and public housing, with densities three times the existing,” Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson said.
“Greater densities are now part of the swing underway in Sydney from a suburban model to a more urban city so the timing is right for the renewal. Increasing density also ensures that this model of housing provision stacks up financially, and will attract private sector investment.”
He said the 70:30 private/social split was economically necessary and also socially desirable.
“Studies have proven that large housing estates comprising only of social housing tenants can entrench social and economic disadvantage for the residents of these estates,” he said. “Around the world the trend is towards mixing private and public housing as in the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle Estate in London by Sydney developer Lendlease.”
He also agreed with the transfer of 35 per cent of public housing to the community sector.
“Organisations like St George Community Housing, who look after the Washington Park public housing, have become very skilled in managing public housing tenants and in providing affordable housing generally.
“The development industry is keen to contribute to the exciting renewal of public housing estates across the state and to help create new blended, mixed use urban communities.”
Greens express concern
City of Sydney Greens councillor Irene Doutney, who has recently been appointed Sydney Deputy Lord Mayor, welcomed the commitment to more social housing but expressed concern over private sector involvement and location of housing.
“I am deeply concerned that the sale of public housing assets to the private sector places public housing tenants in a vulnerable position,” Ms Doutney said. “The job of developers is to maximise their profits. We need strong safeguards in place to ensure that… public housing units delivered are not reduced in number or size through the planning process.”
Ms Doutney also said there needed to be a stronger focus on inner-city developments.
“This strategy demonstrates that the government understands the risks of concentrating disadvantage in one area. If they are really serious about this they must ensure that disadvantaged people are supported to live in the inner city and not just the outskirts on Sydney. This government’s destruction of the Millers Point community leaves me in doubt of their commitment.”
- See our story Why affordable housing is “key public infrastructure”