Baird Government runs and hides instead of tackling the housing crisis

Greens MP and Housing spokesperson, Jan Barham MLC, has slammed the Coalition Government’s refusal to provide a response to the Parliamentary inquiry into Social, Public and Affordable Housing until after the NSW election.

“The Select Committee inquiry that was established by the Greens delivered its final report last September. The Baird Government had almost six months to consider the report and provide its response. Instead of responding a week before the due date, they’ve waited until the last minute to announce they’ll hide behind the caretaker provisions,” Ms Barham said.

“The inquiry’s 41 recommendations, most of which were unanimously supported by the committee, were welcomed by housing advocacy and social service organisations as a blueprint for the desperately needed action to address the housing crisis in NSW.

“Instead of delivering a response and a plan for affordable and social housing, the Baird Government have spent the past six months consulting on a discussion paper that ignored all of the available evidence and took us all back to square one.

“It looks like they intend to wait until the election is done before carrying on with their unsustainable sell-off of public housing and underinvestment in delivering the affordable and social housing we need, throughout Sydney and across the state.

Ms Barham said that any that wouldn’t set out how they would boost the availability of appropriate social and affordable housing was dodging one of the key issues for NSW.

“The Greens have set out our economic plan that would deliver $4.5 billion in funding for social and affordable housing. We would see government bonds used to drive rapid investment to increase the housing available to people on low and moderate incomes, in the inner city, the suburbs and regional centres.

“The Greens want to see the recommendations of the Select Committee implemented by whoever forms government after 28th March. We moved to establish this inquiry because housing affordability and the social housing system were deteriorating after successive governments had failed to deliver the funding, the policy settings and the whole of government commitment that was required.

“We need a housing system that gives priority to helping people to afford a secure, appropriately-located and configured place they can call home. Without adequate housing, people and families are deprived of the opportunities for work, education and social support that are essential to their wellbeing. By punting the issue a few more months down the road, the Coalition has neglected its responsibility to care for the people of NSW,” Ms Barham concluded.

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

Background:

Welfare report highlights the need for urgent NSW action on disability employment

The recommendation of a Jobs Plan for people with disability and mental health conditions in the final report of the federal Reference Group on Welfare Reform highlights the need for urgent action by state government to pull its weight in delivering jobs, says Jan Barham, Greens NSW spokesperson on Disability.

“Although some proposed changes to income support and housing assistance raise concerns, governments need to understand the fundamental importance of making their first actions to improve the opportunities for employment for people with disability. A national Jobs Plan would be a welcome initiative, but it needs to be supported by action at a state level,” Ms Barham said.

“There is a great deal more that state government can do to assist people with disability into employment. Investment is needed in a targeted campaign aimed at educating employers on the positives of hiring people with disability, challenging negative attitudes and removing persistent stereotypes.

“Vocational training and education need urgent action to reverse the impacts of funding cuts on people with disability, especially when punitive changes to federal support payments remain on the table. State government needs to partner with local government and the private sector to ensure people with disability have pathways from training into quality employment opportunities,” Ms Barham said.

“The NSW Government scrapped its Payroll Tax Rebate Scheme that provided subsidies for employers willing to hire people with intellectual disability after the take-up rate was low. Instead of abandoning it, the scheme should be expanded to include employment of all people with disability, and initiatives to support disability employment need to be more actively promoted by government.”

Ms Barham also called for the Government to act as a model employer of people with disability and address the downward trend in public sector employment of people with disability.

“As the largest employer in the state the NSW Government should be leading the way in removing employment barriers and providing opportunity to people with disability. But their EmployABILITY strategy failed to deliver on its modest targets, and rates of disability employment in the public sector have continued to drop.

“In 2014, people with disability made up only 3.1 percent of the public sector workforce, and the public sector employees with disabilities that required workplace adjustment was below one percent. By comparison, the National Disability Insurance Agency has achieved an 11 percent rate of employment of people with disability,” Ms Barham said.

Ms Barham also noted that the success of a jobs strategy would rely on the NSW Government delivering appropriate and affordable transport and housing.

“The Greens are committed to increasing the taxi transport subsidy for people with disability and improving public transport accessibility. The Greens support an investment to boost the supply of affordable housing, including priority delivery of accessible and supported housing for people with disability,” Ms Barham concluded.

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

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.

Greens commit to opportunity and inclusion for people with disability

Jan Barham, Greens NSW MP and Disability Spokesperson, has welcomed the release of People with Disability Australia’s (PWDA) 2015 NSW election platform and called on all parties to ensure NSW supports participation for people with disability in all aspects of life, including employment, education and housing.

“The next NSW Government must improve services and reduce barriers for people with disability. The Greens’ policy on disabilities show our commitment to ensuring those outcomes are delivered,” Ms Barham said.

“People with Disability Australia and other organisations such as the NSW Council on Social Service have released election platforms that set a path for greater inclusion and participation by people with disability.

“Some of the actions called for in those platforms are ones I have campaigned actively for in the Parliament, such as raising the support provided by the Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme to ensure the people who rely on it have affordable access to transport so they can engage in study, work and social activity.”

Ms Barham also welcomed the call for parties and candidates to declare their commitment to the closure of large institutional centres in NSW.

“Large institutions must be closed in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Institutional accommodation separates people with disability from participation in the community. We need to ensure people with disability have access to housing that suits their individual wants and needs, and that wherever they choose to live they will have access to the support services they need.

“Closing these centres requires the Government to deliver appropriate housing and ensure that the funding and services are available to provide for people’s care and support. It also requires advocacy and consultation to ensure people living in institutions gain access to the types of housing and services they want and need.

“The Greens have continued to monitor and raise concerns where closure plans leave people with disability and their families uncertain about when and how it will happen, and what the outcomes will be in terms of the housing and care services that will be available. This process needs clarity and inclusiveness.”

Ms Barham also noted that the Greens do not support the current NSW Government’s plan to entirely withdraw from its responsibilities and service delivery roles in the ageing, disability and home care sectors.

“I hold serious concerns about the Coalition’s premature announcement that it is vacating the sector and will limit its responsibilities to funding services through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

“The NSW Government has an obligation to ensure access to appropriate, adequate services across the state. They must retain a role in delivering supports where choice in non-government services is unavailable.”

Ms Barham called on all members of the public to talk to their local candidates about the importance of the NSW Government’s role in supporting people with disability and ensuring opportunity for their participation.

“While the NDIS is a landmark reform for Australia, its rollout can make it too easy for other disability issues to be overlooked. Most people with disability won’t be eligible for the NDIS and it doesn’t address many of the issues affecting participation for people with disability. The NDIS won’t ensure people with disability have better job prospects, more accessible public transport or improved opportunities for study and housing.

“The State Government and the Parliament to be elected on 28 March must make a strong commitment to funding and delivering opportunities and services for people with disability. All candidates and political parties must explain their plans for people with disability in terms of housing, transport, jobs and wellbeing.”

The Greens NSW policy on Disabilities

People with Disability Australia’s Election Platform NSW 2015

Speak, Plan, Act! NCOSS Election Platform 2015

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

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]

Government must act on Aboriginal land claim backlog

The NSW Government’s failure to transfer lands that are part of approved Aboriginal land claims is depriving Aboriginal people of significant opportunities for economic and social self-determination, says Jan Barham, Greens MP and spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs.

“The latest Auditor-General’s report on Trade and Investment shows that the Crown Lands Minister has yet to transfer approved land claims worth $719 million.

“The failure to transfer land worth almost three quarters of a billion dollars despite the claims having been approved is holding up Aboriginal Land Councils from being able to engage in important work that would contribute to the wellbeing of Aboriginal people,” Ms Barham said.

Ms Barham noted that in addition to the incomplete transfers of approved claims, the Auditor-General estimated that at the Government’s current pace, it would take 122 years to clear the backlog of undetermined Aboriginal land claims.

“Two years ago the Auditor-General told the Government it needed a plan for reducing the number of unprocessed claims. There are 504 claims that have been waiting for determination for more than a decade, and a total of more than 25,000 land claims still need to be determined, yet the Minister for Crown Lands hasn’t put forward a plan for improving the processing of claims.

“The only effort we’ve seen from Minister Humphries has been an effort to restrospectively rule out claims relating to coastal lands in the disgraceful Bill that the Government was forced to withdraw last month.”

Ms Barham welcomed the recent amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act that would allow voluntary agreements to be negotiated as a way of resolving land claims, but warned that this process should not be treated as a solution to the failure of Crown Lands in dealing with land claims across the state.

“The amendments made by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs provide a new pathway that Aboriginal Land Councils may choose to take up. But if the alternative is for claims to be left unprocessed by the Government for years or even decades, then there is no way the agreements can be regarded as voluntary.

“More than thirty years ago this state enacted a system of Aboriginal land rights in recognition of the historic dispossession and disadvantage. The Government, and in particular the Crown Lands Minister, needs to get serious about fulfilling the promise of land rights,” Ms Barham concluded.

Auditor-General’s 2014 Report on Trade and Investment

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

Holiday letting eroding community

The Greens NSW Tourism spokesperson and Byron Shire resident, Jan Barham MLC, has warned that Byron Shire Council’s Draft Short Term Holiday Accommodation Strategy is a recipe for the erosion of community in Byron Shire.

“The changes to the planning process proposed by Byron Shire Council would allow holiday letting in all residential areas and diminish the already limited stock of available housing and change the character of Byron Shire,” said Ms Barham.

“The proposal makes a mockery of strategic planning and has had no Social Impact Assessment, which would be required for rezoning residential land for tourism. The council is already under pressure to deliver more residential housing and that was evident in the State Government’s recent approval of the West Byron development.

“The problem with the unapproved use of dwellings for tourism purposes has been an issue in Byron Shire for over a decade and has caused great concern in the community. Currently there are estimates of at least 900 houses approved as residential dwellings being used for tourism purposes. This unapproved use means that permanent residents are deprived access to housing and equates to about 2500 people unable to be housed.”

Ms Barham noted that the legal situation prohibiting holiday letting was clear and that the NSW Government needed to support councils to act in enforcing the law as it stands.

“A recent Land and Environment Court judgment relating to holiday letting in the Gosford area makes clear that the use of dwellings for short term tourism purposes in residential zoned areas is prohibited. Byron Shire Council has tried to deal with the problems with the unapproved use but has been thwarted by the state government in the regulation of the use or taking legal action.

“In the past when Byron council sought to take action it was requested to desist by the State Government with an assurance that they were addressing the issue. What eventuated was Government support for industry regulation. It is outrageous for the same Government that imposes unwanted development on communities to fail to support councils’ efforts to ensure existing housing is available for residential use.

“While tourism is an important economic benefit to the shire, it should not come at the erosion of the community that has protected and created this iconic destination. Council should be acting on the current legal situation rather than considering an approach that would contribute to the lack of affordability and availability of properties and change the character of the community,” Ms Barham concluded.

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

Motions put on record in the NSW Legislative Council by Jan Barham

Unapproved Tourism Use of Residential Dwellings, Notice given 19 November 2014

1. That this House notes that:

(a) legislation and court decisions define the distinction between the use of residential dwellings for the purpose of permanent occupation and short term tourism uses such as holiday let and serviced apartments, and

(b) court decisions have determined that the use of approved dwellings or dwelling houses for the purpose of tourism use is an unlawful purpose and contrary to the zone objectives and therefore prohibited.

2. That this House notes that many court cases have addressed the use of residential-zoned buildings and land for uses other than residential dwellings, including the following:

(a) in the judgement of Reynolds JA in South Sydney Council v James (1979) 35 LGRA 432 the critical element of reasoning was that some level of permanence is required in that a dwelling requires “at the very least, a significant degree of permanence or habitation or occupation”,

(b) in the Land and Environment Court case of the Sydney Council and the Waldorf Apartments in March 2008, Paine J’s judgment focussed on the question of whether the use of the rooms “is for the purpose of ‘residential accommodation’ or for other purpose, namely short term accommodation” and ruled that consent to use the building for serviced apartments had not been given,

(c) in the Waldorf Apartments case, Paine J noted the similarities with the case in North Sydney regarding the use of Blues Point Towers where, in the Court of Appeal, Mahoney JA (with the agreement of Handley JA and Priestly JA) held that the use of flats as serviced apartments was unauthorised on the grounds that they did not have “the necessary degree of permanence”,

(d) in the 2005 case relating to the York Apartments in York St Sydney, it was noted that the term ‘serviced apartments’ “was first introduced into the City of Sydney Local Environment Plan in 1996 and described inter alia as ‘used to provide short term accommodation’”, and that Lord J, ruling in the appeal to change usage of the York building to incorporate serviced apartments, found against the appeal on the grounds that “the description of a flat as a ‘dwelling’ or ‘domicile’ carried with it the notion of a degree of permanency of habitation or occupancy” and that the owner must comply with the original consent for use as a ‘residential flat building’,

(e) in the more recent case in the Land and Environment Court, Paine J ruled that a unit in Sutherland Shire had a 1960 development consent for use only as a ‘residential flat building’, and quoted the above Mahoney J Court of Appeal decision, noting that a dwelling or residence carries with it the notion of permanency and ruled that the unit in question was, on the balance of probabilities, being used for holiday letting, as indicated by its advertisement for such in the NRMA Open Road magazine,

(f) in a Byron Shire case in the Land and Environment Court involving the appeal against Council’s refusal to permit a proposed development to be re-categorised as ‘holiday cabins’, Lloyd J considered that by definition, a holiday cabin is a tourist facility and therefore is prohibited in that particular zone of the Council’s LEP, and

(g) in the Land and Environment Court in April/May 2013, hearing a matter involving Gosford City Council brought by the neighbours of a six bedroom holiday let with a history of late night parties, loud music and other disturbances, Pepper J found that holiday letting of this property was prohibited on the grounds that the use was not sufficiently “permanent to comprise a ‘dwelling house’ for the purposes of the relevant zoning” and further Pepper J noted that, unlike other Councils like Byron Shire, this Council had not amended its LEP to resolve any ambiguity regarding holiday letting.

3. That ths House notes that there is considerable confusion in the community regarding the rights of property owners to use buildings and land for short-term letting or tourism purposes when the original consent has been for residential use, and in particular that in the Gosford judgment Pepper J stated that, “Whether a building is a dwelling house is a question of fact and degree,” and further that Councils expecting the courts to rule on these matters “amounts to an effective abrogation by the council of its fundamental duties and responsibilities.”

4. That this House notes that while in April 2012 the then Minister for Planning and Infrastructure the Hon. Brad Hazzard MP announced a Code of Conduct for Holiday Letting, this amounted to the industry essentially regulating the industry and little recourse for either the councils or the residents who may be suffering the negative effects of holiday letting in their towns or suburbs. 
5. That this House notes that:

(a) due to the legal interpretations of the permissible use of a dwelling house and the determinations that short term letting is a prohibited use, there are concerns regarding liability and insurance protection, and

(b) the use of dwellings for an unapproved use such as short term letting and tourism purposes results in a lack of safeguards for the occupants.

6. That this House notes that the current Standard Instrument LEP definition of a residential accommodation:

(a) means a building or place used predominantly as a place of residence, and includes any of the following:
(i) attached dwellings,
(ii) boarding houses,
(iii) dual occupancies,
(iv) dwelling houses,
(v) group homes,
(vi) hostels,
(vii) multi dwelling housing,
(viii) residential flat buildings,
(ix) rural workers’ dwellings,
(x) secondary dwellings,
(xi) semi-detached dwellings,
(xii) seniors housing,
(xiii) shop top housing, but

(b) does not include tourist and visitor accommodation or caravan parks, and therefore identifies that tourism use of a dwelling is a prohibited use.

7. That this House notes that the use of approved dwellings for short term letting and tourism purposes reduces the available permanent housing stock in a locality and can result in a housing supply shortage, and therefore places availability and affordability stresses on a locality and is contrary to strategic planning objectives to define the potential housing stock and meet permanent population targets.

8. That this House calls on the Government to clarify the legal and planning requirements relating to the use of dwellings for short term letting and tourism purposes and note the impacts and consequences.

Legal Issues Relating to Unapproved Tourism Booked via Websites, Notice given 11 November 2014

1. That this House calls on the Government to resolve the legal issues of properties that are used by tourists or visitors secured via internet sites such as Airbnb and Stayz, which constitute a non-compliant use with state planning and/or local council regulations, as considered by the Legislative Council Inquiry into Tourism in Local Communities, especially under Term of Reference 3.

2. That this House notes that:

(a) the use of internet sites such as Airbnb to locate properties for short term stays by tourists or visitors has been increasing since 2008 when such sites first began,

(b) the use of this form of booking via internet sites results in the true number of tourists or visitors to an area being under-estimated which can mean that government is unable to plan properly for service provision,

(c) most properties listed on such websites are not approved by local government for tourism purposes and are non-compliant with the standards set in the Building Code of Australia for tourist accommodation,

(d) due to the lack of approval these properties may not be covered by insurance while being used by tourists,

(e) fire, safety and other standards of these properties may be inadequate for temporary holiday accommodation,

(f) this type of tourist or visitor accommodation may have negative impacts on neighbours due to issues such as noise, rubbish, parking and anti-social behaviour, and

(g) properties secured via the internet and used by tourists or visitors for short term stays may be competing unfairly with legitimate, approved tourist or visitor accommodation due to lack of:
(i) application approvals and fees,
(ii) compliance with regulation,
(iii) higher cost of commercial property purchase and
(iv) payment of local government commercial rates,

(h) strata managers and strata committees are seeking clarification about the legal issues surrounding the use of residential properties for short term letting.

3. That this House notes that when residential zoned approved dwellings are used for commercial or tourism purposes it diminishes the supply and affordability of housing and therefore contributes to housing affordability pressures.

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