Social Housing Maintenance

Social Housing Maintenance

(Private Member's Statement, 24 March 2022, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament) 

Safe, secure, affordable housing is a human right and vital for people to reach their potential and contribute to the community and economy.

The private rental market will always be out of reach for some people because of circumstances like disadvantage, trauma, poor health, mental health and, of course, luck. We will always need a strong, well‑resourced social housing system that provides appropriate housing to those who need it and treats tenants with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, years of neglect have left many housing properties in disrepair and the repairs and maintenance process fails to ensure tenants' homes are safe and sustainable. Cost cutting has become the priority since asset management was split from tenant support, creating a disconnect between the property and its role to provide safe and sustainable accommodation that meets tenants' needs.

The Department of Communities and Justice [DCJ] is responsible for tenants, and the Land and Housing Corporation [LAHC] is responsible for repairs and maintenance, managed through private contractors. As a result, the maintenance process is confusing, difficult, slow and unresponsive. Tenants struggle just to make a report about the repairs and maintenance needed to their home. The eRepair facility is not for all issues and some operators on the maintenance line refuse to log issues that they consider to be the tenant's responsibility, without considering the circumstances. Vermin, which can be caused by wall cracks and gaps, or mould which can be caused by leaks, for example, are regularly referred back to tenants to deal with. Where an issue is logged, there are significant challenges in getting the help needed. Tenants are not informed about the priority a job has been given or the expected time frame for its completion. Responsive or urgent repairs are often delayed or declined due to cost, leading to more expensive and extensive repairs in the future.

I get regular complaints about problems with contractors. Work done is often incomplete or unsatisfactory and when tenants follow up unfinished work, they often find out that a job has been closed. Contractors rarely provide tenants with a time when they will attend and often cancel jobs after turning up when no‑one was home. Maintenance contractors do not have access to tenants' files and the laborious and unreliable processes to add notes to maintenance work orders means they are rarely added. One of my constituents who has impaired hearing was promised a phone call on approach because they cannot hear their buzzer. Without any call, the tenant later found a "We missed you" card in their letterbox. Accessibility modifications and simple requests, like installing a cheap tenant noticeboard, require back and forth between LAHC and DCJ, causing significant delays. I tried to get a noticeboard for tenants at Lawson Street, Paddington, for almost a year. Rubbish left in bin rooms is the responsibility of LAHC cleaning contractors, but elsewhere it is the responsibility of DCJ due to illegal dumping. I regularly see rubbish complaints referred from one agency to the other.

Escalating matters often results in tenants being passed between departments and contractors, each denying responsibility. Contractors send tenants to their client service officer, who often refers them to the maintenance line or eRepair. When planned maintenance by LAHC finally takes place, tenants are often forced to continue living in unliveable homes without even a rent reduction. One of my constituents did not have a functioning bathroom for over three months due to leaks. She had to sleep on the couch because water ingress rotted the floorboards in her bedroom, causing black mould. She had to use neighbours' bathrooms for showers, including during the lockdown, before a portable shower was installed in her backyard. Notwithstanding, she paid full rent to LAHC and DCJ.

Another constituent had to live in her home with her three small children during major renovations to the kitchen and bathroom, despite dust, noise, chemical smells and mess, and despite submitting multiple requests for temporary accommodation, including a request from the construction crew that she be relocated. Alternate accommodation was only granted after her son attended hospital from a serious asthma attack. Another constituent whose apartment had bed bugs waited almost two months to get temporary accommodation for fumigation. As a result, the problem spread to his neighbour's home.

Maintenance issues often overlap with tenant welfare, and the NSW Ombudsman, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and the Tenants' Union have raised concerns about public housing being split into two separate portfolios. I am concerned that the recent portfolio name change from "Housing" to "Homes" represents another move away from a person‑focused approach. The repairs and maintenance process should ensure that all public housing is safe, comfortable and fit for purpose. It should be proactive and not just respond to complaints; there should be a property audit to ensure regular maintenance. I call on the Government to adequately fund public housing repairs and maintenance and make tenants' wellbeing the priority.

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