Social and Affordable Housing NSW Fund Bill 2016

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT ( Prospect ) ( 17:03 ): I speak in debate on the Social and Affordable Housing NSW Fund Bill 2016. New South Wales has a social and affordable housing crisis. Public housing waiting lists stretch beyond 20 years in the electorate of Prospect alone, with approximately 10,000 people—women, men, children, the elderly and the disabled—on this list. Steeply rising property values have almost destroyed the commercial viability of private rentals to tenants subsidised by the New South Wales Government. Therefore the need for the New South Wales Government to invest in social and affordable housing should not be underestimated. Under this bill, the Government aims to deliver some 3,000 new social and affordable houses to reduce the waiting list for social housing properties by providing capital for community housing providers to build, maintain and own properties.

In the electorate of Prospect alone 3,000 houses would not be enough to meet the needs of those on the waiting list, but it is a start. Five housing providers have been named; however, the Baird Government has not identified where the new social and affordable houses will be constructed. We have heard that a certain number of these new houses will be constructed in regional areas, but as a representative of a community in Western Sydney I say to the Government that those houses are needed in Western Sydney. I have said that the planned 3,000 new homes would not be sufficient to meet the need in my electorate alone, but the rest of Western Sydney and regional areas such as Newcastle, Wollongong and Port Macquarie desperately need more new social and affordable houses. Furthermore, the New South Wales Treasury Corporation will invest $1.1 billion into social and affordable housing contracts, with a $44 million per annum return on investment. I am pleased that the Government is investing this money to get a decent return on that investment.

Section 5 of the bill sets out the purpose of the fund, which includes setting aside funds to create new social and affordable housing stock, deliver associated services and achieve social outcomes for tenants. This is a welcome, although overdue, policy. Furthermore, despite calling for expressions of interest into partaking in the proposed program in January, the Baird Government has only just introduced this legislation to establish the fund itself. This means that the Baird Government has sat on its hands for some 10 months, acknowledging the problem but shamefully being slow to act. Of course, there should be very careful optimism in regard to this bill. As a financial investment, the Treasury Corporation may sell its stake, or withdraw funding fairly abruptly, should government policy change. Social and affordable housing stakeholders must continue to watch the Government like a hawk, just as the Opposition will, to ensure that any small changes to investments do not unfairly impact on the lives of people who live in the proposed social and affordable housing investments.

Nonetheless, the flexibility can also be used for good. As there are no restrictions on the amount of funding that can be deposited or withdrawn, future expansion beyond phase one is possible, and a promising proposal. I would encourage the Government to follow this path. The Baird Government desperately needs this bill to salvage its reputation with those in social housing as well as those involved in the social housing sector. However, the Baird Government should not get away with its track record to date on social housing. Many tenants experience high rates of crime in their neighbourhood, prolonged waits for simple maintenance of their homes and a lack of investment in government services available to them.

The Baird Government also needs to understand the difficulty of the lives of those who rely on governments to provide housing. I will give a few examples of these people. Just last week, a 70-year-old homeless Assyrian-Australian , who could barely speak English, presented himself to my electorate office seeking help to find housing. He had been living in his car and was destitute and desperate. He had approached Housing NSW and had been given a form and then told to look for private housing on his own. How can anyone who is vulnerable and barely speaks English succeed in the hunt for private real estate? When the New South Wales Government continues its move towards becoming a social and affordable housing investor, rather than an owner and operator, care must be taken to ensure that people like the man I have just spoken about do not fall through the gaps.

Maintenance of housing is also a major problem that is not being adequately addressed by the Baird Government. Another example I will give involves a man in Pendle Hill, who has had an ongoing issue with the bathroom in his home not being adequately waterproofed. Many requests to Housing NSW have been largely ignored, and the gentleman has been left without any idea of whether his bathroom will be fixed despite requests from my office to follow up his concerns, which have also been mostly ignored.

People should not be subjected to this kind of treatment just because they live in social housing. They deserve the dignity of having promised maintenance work done to an acceptable standard with clear communication. But unfortunately there are still more horror stories about social and affordable housing in my electorate of Prospect alone and these stories are endemic across the State. These include Housing NSW residents putting up with antisocial behaviour by housing drug addicts and those convicted of violent crimes next to senior residents; a tenant who has not had any repairs done to his kitchen for 30 years with cupboards falling off his kitchen wall; tenants not being able to use showers or bathrooms for weeks on end as contractors did not correctly complete the job the first time; and residents who have had a least four contactors out to look at the same job before a decision was made to complete the works.

Labor supports the bill but there are other issues that I need to raise. First, under clause 13 the Minister would have the power to delegate authority to an employee of Treasury with very little provision or oversight. Further, under clause 16 the Minister is to be granted the power to "determine whether the policy objectives of the Act remain valid and whether the terms of the Act remain appropriate … ". This provides a significant amount of flexible power to the Minister without much scrutiny. Such decisions will barely be transparent and simply rely on the hope that the Minister does a good job.

As I have said, the New South Wales Opposition will not oppose this bill and welcomes further investments in social and affordable housing in New South Wales. However, the New South Wales Government must not just throw money at the problem and do nothing to ensure quality of homes and support services to vulnerable people in society. Those in New South Wales who rely on the Government to invest in their future homes deserve dignity and respect. I hope that additional housing will create the vibrant, safe communities which these residents—and residents in the Prospect electorate and throughout New South Wales—deserve. I commend the bill to the House.

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