Inner City Social Housing

Inner City Social Housing

(Social Housing Motion, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes the vital role of social housing for people on low incomes, especially in areas of high housing cost such as the inner city;

(2) congratulates the Government on its ongoing support for the Northcott Community Development Worker and renumbering of the estate to improve safety and amenity;

(3) notes concerns about an increasing backlog of repairs and maintenance, especially for older housing stock; and

(4) calls on the Government to invest needed funds to properly maintain its residential stock.

Stable, low-cost housing is vital to people with very low incomes, especially those with mental illness, and drug and alcohol problems, those suffering from trauma and abuse, and prisoners who have been released back into the community. The inner city is close to health and welfare support services, and jobs and public transport, which can help people who cannot afford housing in the private market to get back on their feet and contribute to the community.

Inner-city social housing should be retained and expanded. Alarmingly, the current Government is considering selling Millers Point homes and moving tenants who may have lived there for years. This will have a major impact on the community and will push more tenants with health and welfare problems to the fringes of the city, where there is limited public transport, jobs and support services. Reports have suggested that tenants may be relocated in the inner city, but Housing NSW reports that inner city urgent waiting times are up to two years or five years or 15 years, particularly for those needing larger family homes—such as those being sold in Millers Point. The proposal would displace Millers Point tenants, expand the already lengthy waiting list and reduce available stock.

The State Heritage Register includes the Millers Point and Dawes Point village precinct and describes the area as unique in Australia because of a strong sense of cohesion facilitated by a range of complementary architectural, structural, physical and social elements. The precinct should be maintained. Selling high-value inner-city properties is like selling the family silver. We know it is very unlikely that these properties will ever be able to be replaced with additional social housing in the inner city. Selling these properties will also cleanse the area of lower-income people—something that I clearly oppose.

The Surry Hills Northcott community has been assisted by a community development worker since 2002, when the former Labor Government finally agreed to the call by my predecessor, Clover Moore, for practical support for the then troubled estate that had an entrenched sense of hopelessness following a period of significant crime and antisocial behaviour. The community development worker position has built community capacity and supported Housing NSW projects with an active community room, arts projects, partnerships with support services, safety audits, mental health recovery projects, World Health Organization accreditation as a safe community, recycling and waste education, tenant computer facilities and tenant gardening groups.

The positive changes in Surry Hills have reduced transfer requests and neighbour disputes, cutting costs and demands on the Government. When the community was without this position during much of 2012 there was a breakdown in projects, communication and relationships. While I strongly believe the role should be permanent, I welcome the extension of the role by the Government until June next year. The current community development worker, Kira Weiss, is very well respected by the Surry Hills housing community and works hard to deliver outcomes. Woolloomooloo and other larger estates would also benefit from having a community development worker. Police, ambulance, fire brigade, health and welfare services, and numerous safety audits have called for the renumbering of the Northcott estate to improve safety and security.

I commend the work by this Government to finally commence this project, and I understand that it should be completed within the new financial year. This means that ambulances, police and other key services will be able to access residents faster and without the confusion that currently exists, which delays vital help. I thank the relevant Ministers for their commitment to ensuring that this process happens and also acknowledge the work of my predecessor, Clover Moore, in campaigning for this for many years. A long-term lack of funding for social housing has left a backlog of maintenance and repair work, and the inner city has some of the oldest social housing properties where this is having significant impacts.

Older heritage properties are becoming expensive to maintain and some homes have been left vacant to deteriorate and be vandalised. As of November 2012, of the 168 maintenance requests for Woolloomooloo alone, 44 were outstanding. In the program of works for this financial year, 38 properties for priority works totalling $252,844 were identified. This situation became so bad that the Redfern Legal Centre produced a repair kit to help Housing NSW tenants understand the process involved in getting action from Housing NSW, including taking their landlord—the New South Wales Government—to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal. Funding from the Clover Moore Lord Mayoral Salary Trust helped to get this kit printed and distributed to tenants with serious maintenance problems.

Many tenants are too scared to report maintenance issues in fear of this being used as an excuse to evict them. I stress to them at my regular public tenant meetings the importance of reporting to get outcomes. Tenants say that this practice is demolition by neglect, forcing low-income people out of the inner city. The local community has rallied to oppose the New South Wales Government evaluation of housing for sale in Millers Point, where many tenants are fearful of losing their homes and of breaking up their community. I note that in this year's budget $158 million is allocated to upgrading existing public housing and $119 million to new supply of social housing. I hope the inner city receives a fair share so that vital projects can be completed.

From my very first day in Parliament I have spoken about Sydney's inspiring public housing community. Residents in areas including Millers Point, The Rocks, Woolloomooloo, Potts Point, Ultimo, Chippendale, Paddington, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills have taught me a lot about the importance of community and the strength of their communities. Public housing tenants actively contribute to the fabric of our city and many, who have little themselves, do much to help others in need. They deserve greater respect and security. I commend this motion to the House.

In response to debate:
I thank the member for Drummoyne, the member for Cronulla, the member for Camden, the member for Hornsby and the member for East Hills for their contributions, and for their respect for social housing residents and their communities. It is also important to note the commitment of the Hon. Sophie Cotsis, the shadow Minister for Housing, my Independent colleague the member for Lake Macquarie and The Greens member for his commitment to social housing. Vulnerable people on low incomes who cannot afford private rental market prices need access to stable low-cost housing that is close to health and welfare services, jobs and public transport.

Inner-city social housing is essential and the Government should look at ways to expand and maintain inner-city stock for the long term. Millers Point is not a large public housing estate but it has problems that need to be addressed. It sustains a supportive and caring community for many tenants who are fearful they will be forced to move away from the support and services they receive if the Government decides to sell occupied homes. The inner city already has a long waiting list for housing; the Government should not be selling existing stock.

The Government's work in Surry Hills to appoint an effective and respected community development worker shows what can be achieved when resources are dedicated to social housing. The 12-month extension of the role will help to continue to build the Northcott community to ensure that tenants feel safe, supported and valued. It will also continue to reduce the burden on Housing NSW. Happier tenants are less likely to request transfers and thus get caught up in disputes. I call for this position to be made permanent and for other suburbs like Woolloomooloo to have one. Renumbering of the Northcott estate is on track, which is a credit to this Government after years of inaction from the former Labor Government.

It will be easier and quicker for ambulances, police and other key services to access residents when urgent help is needed. Maintenance in a large portion of inner-city housing continues to be a problem with large and increasing backlogs. The Sydney electorate has some of the oldest building properties that pose maintenance challenges on large estates. Backlogs must be addressed to prevent their deterioration so problems do not increase in the future. Social housing tenants contribute to the fabric of our city. They care for their neighbourhoods and create a strong sense of community, providing support for each other. Inner-city housing needs increased long-term investment. This motion is a sign of respect to the people who live in social housing and acknowledges their great contribution to our State. I commend the motion to the House.

Question—That the motion be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.

---> Motion agreed to.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!