Submission on the NSW Government’s social housing discussion paper

Social housing in NSW: A discussion paper for input and comment was released late last year by the NSW Government. It proposes three pillars to underpin the future direction of public and community housing and asks one broad question relating to each pillar.

But the discussion paper is fundamentally flawed in three ways:

Download the Greens NSW submission on the Government’s discussion paper about the future of social housing.

Social housing consultation ignores the evidence for genuine solutions

Jan Barham, Greens NSW spokesperson on Housing, has called on communities to tell the State Government to get serious about delivering affordable and social housing solutions. Her comments follow the Government’s release of a Discussion Paper on Social Housing last year which has been followed by ongoing consultation sessions across NSW.

“Last year I initiated a Select Committee inquiry into Social, Public and Affordable Housing that received more than 250 submissions and undertook extensive consultation and research across the state. That inquiry delivered 41 recommendations that were welcomed by many in the housing advocacy sector as a blueprint for resolving the affordable housing crisis in NSW.

“Sadly, the Government’s discussion paper ignores the 41 recommendations from the Select Committee, as well as the clear recommendations from the Auditor-General’s report on public housing and the Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry on tenancy management,” Ms Barham said.

“Instead of drawing on what the experts and stakeholders in the community have already told us, the Government wants to take us back to square one. They’re asking the community for ideas and seem likely to continue with their unsustainable approach of selling off public housing to fund the budget shortfall.”

Ms Barham warned that a narrow focus on social housing by Government, without recognising the relevance of broader housing affordability issues and the connections between housing and employment, education, transport and support services would fail to deliver effective solutions.

“No amount of rhetoric about encouraging people to find a pathway out of social housing can help unless the social housing system actually connects people with the opportunities and supports they need, and unless there is a viable way into the private rental market.

“Access to safe, secure and appropriately located housing is a key determinant of people’s wellbeing, as it provides the basis for health, employment and education and access to consistent services.

“In NSW there are nearly 300,000 people who live in social housing and almost 60,000 on the waiting list. There needs to be a strong focus on how the government ensures increased and appropriate housing stock, along with integration with services and community connections for residents.

“Without the provision of additional housing there is little hope that the trend of increased homelessness can be turned around,” Ms Barham warned.

Ms Barham encouraged the public to engage with the consultation process and make use of the information available from inquiries and housing advocacy organisations.

“It is important that the community inform the government that improving the availability of affordable and social housing is a priority and there is ample direction available for how they could take action.

Submissions on the Social Housing Discussion Paper close on 20 February 2015. The NSW Government is due to respond to the Select Committee’s recommendations on 9 March 2015.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891

Background

Residential park regulations need stronger protections and greater transparency

The wellbeing and financial security of residential park home owners and residents will remain at risk unless the NSW Government acts to improve regulation of the sector, warns Greens MP and spokesperson for Housing, Jan Barham.

“When the new legislation for residential parks was introduced to Parliament in November 2013, the Greens raised serious concerns about its impacts and the potential risks for residents. The Government has taken more than a year to draft these regulations yet they have still failed to include the necessary safeguards for owners and residents,” Ms Barham said.

When it commences, the new residential parks legislation would allow operators to offer “voluntary sharing arrangements” to home buyers that could commit them paying a share of the proceeds when they sell their home as well as entry or exit fees, in exchange for the possibility of reduced ongoing site fees.

“The voluntary sharing arrangements have caused great concern among residents that unscrupulous operators will profit at their expense by setting up complex and unfair agreements,” Ms Barham said.

“The regulations need to make sure people considering signing an agreement need information that is clear and consistent with the law. In many cases the law will require that they are also offered a “rent only” agreement. But the standard form of agreement hasn’t included any information about voluntary sharing arrangements, leaving it open for buyers to unwittingly sign up to an unfair or unlawful agreement.”

Ms Barham warned that some parts of the regulations risked seeing home owners facing unreasonable charges for utility services such as sewerage and electricity. She also noted that the regulations did not establish a clear, transparent and fair framework for mediation of disputes that would allow residents to challenge unfair fee increases and practices without risk of incurring additional costs.

“The Government needs to fix these regulations before the legislation commences. The lack of protections will affect many people, most of them older and with limited financial resources, who are looking to make their lasting home in a residential park,” Ms Barham said.

“I’ve consulted across the state and heard the concerns of park residents about the security of their chosen home. Many of these people fear eviction and homelessness if they can’t continue living in their current homes or can’t afford ongoing increases.

“Some of the residents I have spoken to are in great uncertainty, and some even don’t appear to have a clear existing agreement, which means they may need to establish one under this new legislation. Extra safeguards are needed for the sake of current park residents and for the people who would like to buy a home in one of these communities in the future.

“The lack of available affordable housing, particularly in popular coastal tourism areas makes residential parks a vital option for many people that need to be protected. The Government must ensure the rights of owners and residents are defined and fair,” Ms Barham concluded.

The Greens’ submission on the Draft Regulations

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891

Submission on the Draft Residential (Land Lease) Communities Regulation

The draft regulations to accompany the Residential (Land Lease) Communities Act 2013 have been open for consultation. As The Greens NSW spokesperson for Housing, Jan Barham has made a submission that addresses concerns about how the regulations address following issues:

  • Exemption from requirement for mandatory education
  • Exemption relating to charges payable for use of sewerage
  • Discounted service availability charge where less than 60 amps of electricity is supplied
  • Standard form of site agreement, including site fee increases, voluntary sharing arrangements and the right to assign the agreement
  • Mediation processes that are not addressed in the regulations

You can download the submission here [321kB PDF]

Inquiry highlights Government reform is desperately needed to address the affordable housing crisis

The release of the report from the Parliamentary Social, Public and Affordable Housing inquiry initiated by The Greens NSW Housing spokesperson, Jan Barham, has identified key areas for reform to address the housing crisis in NSW. The inquiry received over 250 submissions and visited inner city, suburban and regional areas to see and hear first-hand from local communities.

“This inquiry has heard about the challenges being faced across the state and the impacts of unaffordable housing. The inquiry recognised that housing is not just about people having a roof over their head, but living in a home that is affordable and connected to transport and jobs, and to the education and support services they need to secure their wellbeing,” Ms Barham said.

“The Government must take up these recommendations and deliver housing that is affordable and appropriate to all people in our communities. Many people are finding it difficult to secure housing that meets their needs, including key workers, people with disabilities, and women and children at risk from domestic violence,” Ms Barham said.

Ms Barham noted that some key recommendations of the inquiry pointed to the lack of strategy and direction in housing policy.

“The inquiry has recommended the State consider the appointment of a dedicated Housing Minister and the establishment of an advisory council. It has also highlighted the Government’s failure to deliver policies and strategies to define the future of social and affordable housing.

“Addressing the housing crisis is an issue for all levels of government. It is crucial that long-term partnerships with the Australian Government continue, including the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) and the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH),” Ms Barham said.

Ms Barham also emphasised the importance of planning and taxation policies that ensure affordable housing is available across Sydney and the state.

“Housing affordability pressures continue to worsen and it will take clear direction to address the problem. The Government should ensure that the NSW planning system, along with local government strategies, consider targets for the inclusion of affordable housing that is suited to the needs of local communities.

“The inquiry also heard clear concerns that existing tax policies, such as state stamp duty and negative gearing of investments, could be reviewed and a long-term transition planned to promote housing affordability and the delivery of appropriate new supply.

“We need to get affordable housing right to ensure that people are able to build successful lives, ensure their wellbeing and prevent the risk of homelessness,” Ms Barham concluded.

NSW Parliamentary inquiry into Social, Public and Affordable Housing final report

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891

Greens raise concerns about Government approach to community services delivery and funding

The State Delegates’ Council of the Greens NSW has called on the NSW Government to review and improve its approach to resourcing and delivering vital community services for vulnerable people, including children at risk and women in need of refuge.

Jan Barham, Greens NSW spokesperson on Family and Community Services, Disability Services, Ageing and Housing, said:

“The Greens are concerned that the Government has not committed to key recommendations of the recent inquiry into outsourcing community service delivery. Given the widespread concern we’ve seen following the recent tender outcomes for homelessness services, it’s essential that the Government takes responsibility for ensuring the quality and availability of services.

“The Government’s refusal to ensure it will act as a provider of last resort leaves vulnerable people at risk when non-government services are unavailable or unsuitable. I also note that the Government is considering whether to enhance the Auditor-General’s role in evaluating the performance of non-government social services that receive public funding,” Ms Barham said.

Dr Mehreen Faruqi, Greens NSW spokesperson for Women, said:

“This ‘one size fits all’ approach that the Government has taken to domestic violence and homelessness is counterproductive and dangerous.

“Women-only services like the Muslim Women’s Support Centre, Immigrant Women’s Speakout and the Lillian Howell Project have, for decades, provided high quality specialist services where women work with women to keep them safe from violence and provide counselling and resources that can help prevent violence from occurring again.

“Women-only refuges across the state are facing closure or being handed over to generalist service providers resulting in the loss of long serving and dedicated staff. The collective expertise that these staff have in working with women at risk and their families is a devastating loss to our community.

“The Government must provide long term funding to women-only specialist services and reverse the decisions of this flawed “Going Home Staying Home” program,” Dr Faruqi concluded.

For Further Comment:

Jan Barham: 0447 853 891
Mehreen Faruqi: 0419 142 200 | 9230 2625

Statement adopted by the Greens NSW State Delegates’ Council, Sunday 17 August 2014:

The Greens NSW at their State Delegates’ Council in Hornsby in August 2014 expressed grave concerns about:

  1. the NSW Government’s response to the Parliamentary inquiry into Outsourcing Community Services Delivery’s final report, particularly their refusal to guarantee that the Government would act as a “provider of last resort” in human services delivery when non-government service providers are unable to address people’s needs, and their lack of commitment to ensuring adequate Government responsibility and public accountability for promoting the safety, welfare and wellbeing of vulnerable people; and
  2. the NSW Government’s flawed competitive tendering approach to non-government services, including the Going Home Staying Home homelessness packages which have provoked widespread dismay at the loss of localised, experienced specialist women’s refuges and other services, and which have caused upheaval for organisations, staff and communities based on a process that emphasised minimising costs over recognising the importance of local connections and experienced support services.

The Greens NSW call on the NSW Government to:

  1. ensure that all government departments and agencies involved in human services are adequately funded and staffed to deliver on their service responsibilities to the whole population in need, including increasing child protection caseworker numbers to allow Community Services to protect children who may be at risk of significant harm and ensure the welfare of the state’s most vulnerable children and young people;
  2. increase investment in prevention and early intervention services across all areas of Family and Community Services, including programmes for families at risk of child abuse and neglect, for people at risk of homelessness, and to address the alarming over-representation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system; and
  3. urgently review the funding needs of specialist services including women’s refuges that are at risk of closure through the Going Home Staying Home reforms and ensure continuity of vital services.

Concerns raised about the loss of experienced local homelessness services

People facing homelessness across the state could be left with services lacking the necessary experience and connections to the community under the NSW Government’s recently announced funding packages, warns Jan Barham, Greens MP and spokesperson on Housing.

“I’m alarmed by what I’m hearing from service providers and community organisations across NSW. Helping people who are homeless or at risk at homelessness requires the expertise and trust that can only come from close engagement with local communities.

“I’m concerned that the need to retain community connections and experience has been lost in the decision-making process, and that the service changes that are already beginning will leave some people without the same accessibility to specialised local supports,” Ms Barham said.

The NSW Government’s Going Home, Staying Home funding packages were announced last Friday, following a two-stage tender process. In making the announcement, the Minister for Family and Community Services reinstated some funding for Inner Sydney specialist services in response to expressions of concern by service providers, politicians and the public.

“Since the packages were announced I’ve heard concerns about the outcomes and the process. It appears that local knowledge wasn’t adequately utilised in the assessment of tenders, resulting in the loss of experienced specialist services. What I’m hearing is anxiety about the future of homelessness services throughout regional NSW, as well as in the city.

“In just a few days I’ve been presented with concerns that new services may lack much-needed local connections, that some organisations who weren’t successful with all their tender applications may not be viable, and that some service packages won’t meet the needs of local communities.

“I’ll be continuing to gather feedback from providers and communities, and have indicated to the Minister in a meeting this week that will forward those concerns and seek responses.”

Ms Barham also noted that the looming end of the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness risked leaving homelessness services underfunded into the future.

“The Federal Government has reduced the funding beyond 1 July 2014 and there is no ongoing agreement between the states and the Commonwealth. Despite the NSW Government’s claim that they’ve increased funding across the state, without a partnership we will see a decline in overall funding and reduced support to the vulnerable,” Ms Barham concluded.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891

Budget falls short on investment to break the cycle of disadvantage

The NSW Budget has attempted to manage the crisis facing vulnerable people and families but lacks the vision to break the generational cycle, warns Greens MP and spokesperson on Family and Community Services and Housing, Jan Barham.

“If this Government trumpeted investments in support for disadvantaged people and families like it does for roads, we could secure long-term reductions in risk, harm and homelessness. Investing in prevention and early support services will deliver long-term savings and reduce the need for crisis services in the years and decades to come,” Ms Barham said.

“The Budget includes some new funding to address the crisis in child protection and homelessness services, but the Government’s own projections show they aren’t expecting reductions in the number of people who need those services.

“The Government has again failed to display the long-term vision required to deliver what the evidence shows is required – a major investment in prevention and early supports for vulnerable families, combined with secure and affordable housing to address the massive social housing waiting list.”

Ms Barham noted that despite announcements of additional support for Community Services caseworkers, the number of risk reports and number of children in out-of-home care are expected to remain high in 2014-15.

“Improvements to casework, record-keeping and data systems are much needed, but they help to manage the crisis and don’t ensure that the next generation won’t be exposed to risk of harm. The budget for targeted earlier interventions has only risen by a few per cent, and the Government doesn’t expect these services to be accessed by many more people in the coming year than they have currently served.

Ms Barham also noted the relatively small capital investment in generating new social housing.

“Social housing accounts for around 2.5% of the Government’s proposed capital expenditure, while tens of thousands wait for social housing. If we are serious about preventing homelessness and helping vulnerable people, who are already being hit hard by the Federal Budget, we need to make delivering shelter to people in need a priority for capital investment,” Ms Barham concluded.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891

Background: NSW Budget 2014/15 Family and Community Services Cluster

NB: Real expenditure changes based on 2.25% 2014/15 CPI as forecast in the NSW Budget

Targeted Earlier Intervention

Changes in service measures 2013/14 Revised vs 2014/15 Forecast

  • Community Builders – unchanged at 224,000
  • Staying Home, Leaving Violence – increase from 4,660 to 4,700
  • Child, Youth & Families services – unchanged at 54,000
  • Calls to DV line – unchanged at 22,000
  • Families in Brighter Futures – increase from 2,700 to 2,800

Budget for Targeted Earlier Intervention:
2013/14 (revised): $246.2 million
2014/15 (budget): $257.7 million (real increase of 2.4%)

Statutory Child Protection

Changes in service measures 2013/14 Revised vs 2014/15 Forecast

  • Child & young person concern reports – increase from 267,800 to 284,300
  • Children & young people involved in a concern report – increase from 111,800 to 116,400
  • Children & young people reported at ROSH – increase from 70,400 to 75,000
  • Children & young people with ROSH reports receiving face-to-face assessment – increase from 36.9% to 37.5%

Budget for Statutory Child Protection:
2013/14 (revised): $444.0 million
2014/15 (budget): $451.1 million (real decrease of 0.6%)

Out-of-Home Care

Changes in service measures 2013/14 Revised vs 2014/15 Forecast

  • Children in OOHC – unchanged at 18,900 (NB: revised figure up from forecast 18,400)
  • NGO placements – increase from 52% to 61%
  • Average cost, all children – increase from $43,000 to $45,000

Budget for Out-of-Home Care:
2013/14 (revised): $817.3 million
2014/15 (budget): $852.0 million (real increase of 2.0%)

Social Housing Assistance and Tenancy Support

Changes in service measures 2013/14 Revised vs 2014/15 Forecast

  • Households assisted in social housing – unchanged at 140,500
  • Households assisted to rent privately – increase from 19,000 to 20,000

Budget for Social Housing Assistance and Tenancy Support:
2013/14 (revised): $810.0 million
2014/15 (budget): $811.1 million (real decrease of 2.1%)

Homelessness Services

Changes in service measures 2013/14 Revised vs 2014/15 Forecast

  • Households assisted with temporary accommodation – unchanged at 14,300
  • People receiving assistance from a Specialist Homelessness Service – increase from 52,000 to 54,000

Budget for Homelessness Services:
2013/14 (revised): $250.0 million
2014/15 (budget): $265.4 million (real increase of 3.8%)

Going Home, Staying Home announcement

The Minister for Family and Community Services has this afternoon released the list of tender outcomes for the new specialist homelessness service packages across NSW. She has also announced the reinstatement of funding to inner city services, including specialist women’s services, which were set to lose funding.

You can read the Minister’s media release and download the PDF fact sheet listing the full set of tender results.

I will be reviewing the information and continuing to work to ensure that there are adequate specialist homelessness services across the state. Please feel free to contact my office if you have any queries, comments or issues you would like to raise relating to this announcement.

Greens call for an urgent review of parks legislation to safeguard residents

Greens MP and Housing spokesperson Jan Barham has called on communities to lobby the NSW Government to suspend the implementation of new laws affecting the affordability of residential parks and manufactured home estates, and to make public details about the process involved in developing the controversial laws that passed Parliament in late 2013.

“Recent evidence presented at the ICAC and our Parliamentary inquiry into housing gives cause for serious concern that affordable residential park living is under threat, while park operators who contributed funds to the Liberal Party are given the opportunity for windfall earnings,” Ms Barham said.

“The Government needs to act in the interests of the park home owners. Many of them are older people whose retirement nest eggs may have been lost in the Global Financial Crisis. I’m calling on the new Minister for Fair Trading, Matthew Mason-Cox, to fix the legislation and ensure the affordability of their homes is protected.”

Ms Barham’s comments follow evidence from the Independent Park Residents Action Group (IPRAG) to the NSW Parliament’s housing inquiry, providing case studies of home owners whose ongoing site fees have increased well above the CPI, and highlighting the continued loss of permanent homes as large corporations take over parks and redevelop them into tourism resorts.

“Our inquiry into housing has heard about the loss of low-cost housing in residential parks and villages, especially in coastal areas. It’s essential that affordable housing in parks is preserved.

“The new legislation allows park operators to increase site fees on questionable grounds including claims about future expenses, and it also introduces a new form of capital gain sharing that would see home owners lose a share of the value of their home when they sell it,” Ms Barham said.

“Many home owners and residents were concerned about the proposed legislation last year and in the Parliament I attempted to move amendments that would have fixed many of the biggest risks. The Government didn’t listen at the time, but the community can ask them to act on this new evidence.

“It’s time for people to help protect the wellbeing of people who live in residential parks. Write to the Minister for Fair Trading and let him know that the Government must protect parks and villages as an affordable housing option for older people and others who want to live in those communities,” Ms Barham concluded.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891

Background:

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