Labor Leader Chris Minns’ best intentions will be pointless unless the State Opposition puts strong supporting walls around a system that’s in terminal decline, thanks to a decade of ruthless privatisation.
Under Labor’s plan three existing agencies will be merged to create the one-stop Homes NSW, combining the Land and Housing Corporation, Aboriginal Housing Office and Department of Communities and Justice Housing.
Bringing them under a single umbrella makes sense, but only if coupled with a serious plan to address one of the root causes of the state’s housing crisis: public housing getting swept up in the Coalition Government’s decade-long privatisation firesale.
Since coming to power a decade ago the Coalition Government has sold off 4205 social housing properties, adding $3.5 billion to the state’s coffers.
$82 billion of assets that once belonged to the people of NSW have been cashed out. 12 per cent of the state’s land and buildings assets have been handed to the private sector.
The justification offered for this sell-off was ‘asset recycling’ – the idea that public housing stock sold into the private market could be replenished with new builds.
So how’s that going?
In 2016, the Coalition promised to build 23,000 new social housing dwellings in the following decade as part of its Future Directions housing strategy. New social housing construction was to be funded through the $22 billion Communities Plus program.
Six years later just 10 per cent of these 23,000 dwellings have been delivered.
From 2017 and 2021, the number of new dwellings was actually 1000 fewer than the number of properties sold into private hands or removed from the system.
Victoria and Queensland will account for 80 per cent of Australia’s social housing construction between 2021 and 2024, while public housing in NSW – the nation’s most populous state – is languishing.
Right now, a staggering 51,031 people are waiting for social housing, a 15 per cent spike on the previous year. In the same period the priority list has jumped 13 per cent to 6519.
We know there’s a shortfall of 200,000 social and affordable homes across NSW, with homelessness services under enormous pressure as more and more people are priced out of a suffocatingly tight rental market.
In Sydney, the average dwelling is $560 a week to rent while wage growth remains in the doldrums.
With annual inflation surging back to 7.3 per cent, it’s little wonder that workers who have had pay cuts in real terms are struggling to pay for essentials such as housing.
So what can be done to arrest the crisis?
Hard-working public sector workers could deliver incredible results for our state through a revitalised Homes NSW if the right policies are placed around the mooted agency.
This should start with an iron-clad commitment from Chris Minns that any government he leads would end the privatisation that has eroded NSW public housing.
NSW Labor should instead commit to building social housing that stays in public hands.
Homes NSW must then be given adequate funding to tackle maintenance issues that have left public housing in shocking states of disrepair.
Until these happen, the most vulnerable people in our society will continue to be at the whims of landlords while they languish on a waiting list with more people than can fit into the SCG.
This investment would be a significant impost on the state budget – there’s no way around that. But the overwhelming consensus of modern global research is that providing people with homes saves the public purse in the long run by drastically reducing expensive social problems like unemployment, drug abuse, chronic health conditions, and crime.
Homes NSW needs solid guardrails. Otherwise, Labor’s merger pledge simply doesn’t stand up.
By Stewart Little, General Secretary, Public Service Association of NSW: