Lack of transparency and accountability on public housing sell-off

Question on notice asked on 30 January 2014, answered by Government on 6 March:

5404—Family and Community Services—SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT INTO MILLERS POINT PUBLIC HOUSING

Ms Barham to the Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, and Minister for the Illawarra representing the Minister for Family and Community Services, and Minister for Women—

When will the Social Impact Assessment into the sell-off of public housing in Millers Point, including the questions asked of residents as part of the assessment process, be made publicly available?
How many responses were received from Millers Point residents to the surveys carried out as part of the Social Impact Assessment into the sell-off of public housing?
Answer—

Information relating to social housing in Millers Point will be available once the NSW Government’s plan is ready for release.

Question without notice, 19 March 2014:

The Hon. JAN BARHAM: My question is directed to the Minister for Ageing, and Minister for Disability Services, representing the Minister for Family and Community Services. Will the Minister advise the House why the sell-off of nearly 300 public housing properties at The Rocks and Millers Point was announced less than two weeks after my questions on notice about resident consultation were left unanswered? Will the Minister advise the House why the sell-off was announced less than one week after representatives of Housing NSW and the Land and Housing Corporation appeared at the inquiry into social, public and affordable housing? Will the Minister advise the House why the Government’s sudden announcement, which will have a huge impact on the lives of those communities, demonstrates a fundamental lack of openness, transparency and respect for those residents?

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: I thank the honourable member for her question. At the outset I indicate that I do not agree with the latter parts of the member’s question. The O’Farrell-Stoner Government is committed to a sustainable public housing system. That includes making sure public housing resources are being distributed fairly across New South Wales so that as many people as possible can be helped. This morning the Minister for Family and Community Services announced that the New South Wales Government will sell its public housing properties in Millers Point, Gloucester Street, and the Sirius building in The Rocks due to the high cost of maintenance, the significant investment required to improve properties to an acceptable standard and high potential resale value.

The Government did not take this decision lightly, but it is the right decision in the interests of a sustainable and fair social housing system. This system currently has more than 57,000 families on the waiting list. The long waiting list is due to the failure of those opposite when they were in Government for 16 years. Those opposite failed the people of New South Wales for 16 years. The proceeds from the sale will be reinvested directly into the public housing system. That is the fundamental point. Maintenance on properties in Millers Point costs more than four times the average for public housing dwellings in New South Wales. In the past two years nearly $7 million has been spent maintaining this small number of properties. Subsidies to tenants in the last year reached almost $9 million, with individual tenants receiving subsidies as high as $44,000 per annum. Let us compare that to other places. This compares to the subsidy of $8,000 per year in Campbelltown, $7,000 per year in Gosford and $11,000 in Wollongong.

The PRESIDENT: Order! I call the Hon. Peter Primrose to order for the first time.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: For every subsidised tenancy in Millers Point the Government could assist three to five tenants elsewhere, which means that three to five tenants on the waiting list are missing out on housing because the Government is subsidising these properties.

The PRESIDENT: Order! I call the Hon. Peter Phelps to order for first time. Order! I call the Hon. Sophie Cotsis to order for the first time.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: When the former Labor Government began selling off public housing in Millers Point in 2008 it let other properties fall into disrepair. There was failure on its part for 16 ears. The former Labor Government left us with repair bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore some of these terrace houses to heritage standards.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. Sophie Cotsis has other occasions during proceedings of the House when she can raise this issue. The honourable member should not shout at the Minister for the duration of his answer. Other members, including the Hon. Peter Primrose, the Hon. Penny Sharpe and the Hon. Walt Secord should bear that in mind as well. The Minister has the call.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: The community expects us to invest in a sustainable social housing system that supports disadvantaged people across the entire State.

The Hon. JAN BARHAM: I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister elucidate on his answer in relation to the third part of my question?

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: I thank the member for the opportunity to continue. The Government’s ability to assist more people on the waiting list is severely limited if it sinks millions of dollars into a small number of properties. I recognise that some of these tenants have lived in public housing in Millers Point for decades and that moving to a new location may be difficult. Today the Minister has announced that a team of more than 40 Housing NSW staff is already on the ground talking to and assisting these tenants. Over the next three months a specialist relocation team will work with each and every tenant to understand their needs, and work with them and their families through this relocation. It is a relocation; no-one is telling these tenants that they will not have housing into the future. It is a prioritising of the proper approach by the Government. These staff are senior client services staff who have been selected for the role. Initially each tenant will be visited to undertake a housing needs assessment.

The Hon. Sophie Cotsis: You are throwing them on the street.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: The Hon. Sophie Cotsis should be ashamed of herself, and the record of her government. I say shame on her. This assessment involves understanding the individual needs of each member of the household and discussing their preferences for relocation. Any special needs will be identified in detail, including any medical needs, mental health issues, disabilities and other complex needs. The same officer will work with the tenant throughout the process of relocation. All reasonable costs of moving, including reconnecting utilities, will be covered by the Government. [Time expired.]

Question without notice, 20 March 2014:

The Hon. JAN BARHAM: My question is directed to the Minister for Ageing, and Minister for Disability Services, representing the Minister for Family and Community Services. Will the Minister advise what proportion of the proceeds from the sale of public housing in Millers Point and The Rocks will be spent on the construction of new social housing? Given that the Government has still not produced the Asset Portfolio Strategy that the Auditor-General recommended be completed in December 2013, and that the use of proceeds from previous sales in the area have not been transparently accounted for, what guarantee has been given to the more than 57,000 people on the social housing waiting list that the money from the sell-off will deliver much-needed housing stock and will not be used as a temporary fix for the Government’s $330 million maintenance shortfall?

The PRESIDENT: Order! I am sure the Hon. Jan Barham was hoping to receive an answer from the Minister, not from the rest of the Chamber.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: I thank the member for her question. Let me assure her, as I indicated only yesterday, that all of the proceeds will go back into the public housing sector. I repeat: all of the proceeds. The Hon. Pru Goward has made it clear—

The Hon. Sophie Cotsis: Even the Minister didn’t say that.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: I cannot hear you when you mumble. Speak up a little bit so I have a chance of hearing you.

The PRESIDENT: Order! I do not want to hear her at all. The Minister has the call.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: The Hon. Pru Goward has made it clear that the purpose of selling the properties is so that substantial money can be reinvested in public housing. Members opposite screamed and carried on when I mentioned the list. They should have listened when I spoke on this question the other day. I will read the list to them again and maybe this time they will listen.

The Hon. Jan Barham: Point of order: My point of order is relevance. I specifically asked about the breakdown between maintenance and new housing.

The PRESIDENT: Order! I think the Minister thus far has been largely generally relevant in his answer. He should ensure he remains so during the balance of his answer.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: As I stated previously, the former Ministers responsible for public housing made it clear in a number of statements that these properties needed to be sold so that the proceeds could be reinvested in public housing. That is what the Government is doing. I made it clear on the last occasion that the maintenance costs for these properties can be as high as $44,000 per annum, compared with other properties that cost only $8,000 to $10,000 per annum. This means there will be substantially more money. The Hon. Pru Goward announced that the Government will sell its public housing properties—and this is the list as I announced it—in Millers Point, Gloucester Street and the Sirius building in The Rocks. The Minister said the reason for the sale was the high cost of maintenance and that the significant investment required to improve properties to an exceptional standard will result in a high potential resale value. It is a pity members opposite did not listen on the previous occasion.

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