NSW

Baird Government sees economic boost from public housing revamp

The Baird government is promising a $22 billion construction boom will flow from an historic decision to privatise public housing in NSW.

The construction of tens of thousands of private dwellings is expected to help ease Sydney's housing affordability crisis by putting downward pressure on rents. 

Ageing housing estates will be bulldozed and rebuilt by private property developers into communities where private tenants and home owners outnumber social housing tenants by a 70:30 ratio.

A third of government housing stock will be transferred to community housing organisations, who will be expected to offer support services to assist social housing tenants rebuild their lives. 

The Baird government will rely more heavily on private rental subsidies to house families in crisis, including women fleeing domestic violence, so they can avoid a public housing waiting list which has stretched to 60,000 families.

A 10-year framework to be released by Social Housing Minister Brad Hazzard on Sunday will outline the NSW government's plan to break the cycle of poverty that has seen successive generations of families relying on government-provided housing.

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The number of private rental subsidies will be increased by 60 per cent, to 37,000, by 2025.

Mr Hazzard said the plan would see 23,500 new and replacement social and affordable housing dwellings constructed by the private sector, ranging from high rises to townhouses.

Property developers will be expected to form joint ventures with community housing groups to bid for the redevelopment projects.

"We have billions of dollars worth of land with ageing public housing that no longer does the job we expect for those community members," said Mr Hazzard. 

"This is a really innovative way of saying we can use that old, run down, tired stock on taxpayers land to go to the private sector and say build us more, far more social housing and mix the private housing and give us better social outcomes."

Mr Hazzard cited the Lend Lease redevelopment of the London council housing estate Elephant and Castle, which now includes luxury penthouses and is dominated by private dwellings, as an international example of the model.

Construction and property companies had established business units to pursue social housing redevelopments, he said. Projects would be staged to provide a construction pipeline to sustain the NSW economy as the WestConnex and North Connex projects tapered off.

"The health of NSW will be enhanced by doing something that no Liberal government has ever considered – building thousands of new social homes," he said.

Under the framework, families who have experienced loss of income through a sudden event such as retrenchment or illness, and young people, will be a priority for a new three-year private rental subsidy. Recipients will be required to undergo training or support programs.

The strategy identifies two groups of social housing tenants: a safety net group of the frail, disabled, elderly and mentally ill who need long-term support; and another group that can be moved out of the system, with appropriate support such as TAFE training.

To improve the educational outcomes of children living in social housing, $2 million will be spent building childcare centres, and a program of health worker visits for mothers and babies introduced.

NSW Council of Social Service chief executive Tracy Howe said the framework was "a flexible and progressive and modern take on what needs to be done".

"It acknowledges there is a safety net cohort, and we need to ensure that is not watered down because it is a key milestone for social housing. I don't want to think there will be a group of vulnerable people who feel more vulnerable because the framework says they can be moved out of the system," she said.

Ms Howe cautioned that moving people into jobs may not be easy.

"The jobs aren't always going to be there. It seems there is a hope someone will be able to get out of social housing and into the private rental market. There are areas where jobs don't exist. For Aboriginal young people, it's hard to get work."

Community housing providers would do "a great job" in providing services for vulnerable tenants, but need to be given long-term, 20-year contracts to provide business certainty, she said.

The NSW government has asked the Commonwealth to allow rent to be automatically deducted from Centrelink payments for social housing tenants. Mr Hazzard said this would reduce the number of evictions for unpaid rent. 

Ms Howe said the jury was out on rent quarantining, with some women's groups welcoming it after a Centrelink trial in Bankstown.

Rental bonds will be imposed for new social housing leases in the second half of 2016 for the first time, capped at $1400. The bond, previously announced by the NSW government, can be paid over two years.

Home's where the heart is after 13-year wait

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23:  Charmain Louise Lee with her daughter Charlize Gadd 2, outside their newly designed social housing apartment complex on January 23, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Fiona Morris/Fairfax Media)

Charmain Lee with her daughter, Charlize, 2, at their new home. Photo: Fiona Morris

Charmaine Lee was on the public housing waiting list for 13 years before finally moving her family into a new townhouse this week.

"The girls ran straight up the stairs and picked their bedrooms out," says Ms Lee, 35, a single mum with three children.

The housing placement has come just in time for her eldest daughter, Natasha, 17, to sit the Higher School Certificate this year. When Ms Lee first approached Housing NSW for help, Natasha hadn't started school.

An increasingly unaffordable private rental market for people on low incomes, and few vacancies as half of public housing tenants stay on for 10 years or more, has driven the public housing waiting list up to 60,000 households.

For a long time, the family lived in one room at Ms Lee's parents' house. With her brother and sister also in the house, life was crowded and complicated. 

"Everyone was stepping on everyone else's toes," she recalls.

Ms Lee moved out to a privately rented, dilapidated property in Villawood paying $400 a week.

"I didn't have any lights in the loungeroom. It was rundown and the landlord wouldn't fix anything. I'm glad to be out of there."

Even getting into the private rental market was hard.

"You would go to view homes for lease and have other people offer more money. It wiped you out of the private market," she says.

Housing NSW knocked down old fibro cottages on quarter-acre blocks in the street in Bankstown to redevelop the land with a group of modern two-storey townhouses. More families can now move in.

Ms Lee is impressed with the big laundry, built-in wardrobes and landscaped front and back.

Social Housing Minister Brad Hazzard says he wants the next generation of social housing in NSW to "look, feel and taste like private housing". 

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