Social-housing tenants who damage properties or is convicted of rental fraud may face tougher penalties if a new bill passes State Parliament.
The Residential Tenancies Amendment (Social Housing) Bill 2018 also aims to place rental bonds on tenants seeking social-housing support.
The aim is to reduce waiting times for residents awaiting support. However, concerns and criticism of the bill have been raised.
Shelter NSW – a non-government, not-for-profit organisation that promotes the housing interests of people on low incomes – called the bill a “risk-based rental-bond scheme”.
In a statement, it said that early conversations with the sector, Family and Community Services, and the former social housing minister Brad Hazzard had identified concerns, including “creating further barriers to secure housing for people who are already vulnerable and administrative difficulties in implementing such a scheme”.
“The details of the guidelines referred to in the bill will be crucial to identifying the impacts of the proposed scheme.
“However, these guidelines have not been made available.
“The second-reading speech [of the bill] also recognises the ‘vast majority’ of public-housing tenants are ‘law abiding’ and it, therefore, seems that a rental-bond scheme is both a blunt and administrative cumbersome approach to dealing with what would appear to be a relatively small problem,” the statement reads.
The second-reading speech [of the bill] also recognises the ‘vast majority’ of public-housing tenants are ‘law abiding’ and it, therefore, seems that a rental-bond scheme is both a blunt and administrative cumbersome approach to dealing with what would appear to be a relatively small problem.Shelter NSW
Wendy Middleton, CEO of Argyle Housing, warned that while “the bill was a step forward in giving tenants a sense of responsibility...many [in social housing] have lived a life far from the regulated one that most of us see as normal”.
“There needs to be adequate support to ensure the well-being and personal development of the tenant is the main objective,” she said.
The organisation manages 213 social-housing properties in Wagga in which Ms Middleton said they were not enough to meet demand a majority of the time.
“It is unfortunate that our Wagga office has experienced an increase in requests for housing services directly from people who are homeless,” she said.
CEO of Shelter NSW Karen Walsh said that the policy would have a serious impact on those people already doing it tough.
“There is not adequate protection for people with dementia and other mental health issues, the behaviour of people from outside the household, or decades-old damage caused by former occupants which is only recently discovered,” Ms Walsh said.
Similarly, Leo Patterson Ross, senior policy officer at the Tenants’ Union of NSW, said funding could be better directed.
“The time and money the department will spend on administering the system would be better spent on providing new housing, completing the maintenance backlog or providing more assistance to homeless people,” he said.
However, Pru Goward, Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister for Social Housing, said there would be safeguards to ensure the needs of vulnerable clients are considered, as well as any extenuating circumstances faced by social housing tenants.
“For example, no rental bond will be required of a victim of domestic and family violence where the damage is caused by a perpetrator of domestic violence,” she said.
Ms Goward said the amendments would create a more financially sustainable social-housing system that would reinforce tenant responsibility and encourage behavioural change for tenants who cause damage to their property.
“By damaging a property, a tenant forces money to be spent on repairs that otherwise could have been spent elsewhere in the social housing system.
“A tenant who commits fraud prevents someone truly in need and waiting on the social housing register from receiving housing assistance,” Ms Goward said.
Ultimately, the goal is to remove the disadvantages faced by “those doing the right thing”.
She said that people on the waiting list expected tenants to look after their properties and be honest in their representations when claiming a benefit from the Government.
How Wagga compares
Based on the Government’s Family and Community Services’ data for waiting times as of 30 June 2017, the Wagga Allocation Zone has 338 people listed as general applicants for social housing and 15 listed as priority.
Of the property types listed in the zone, from one bedroom to four-or-more bedrooms, only three-bedroom properties have an expected waiting time of up to two years.
The others have an expected waiting time of 2–5 years.
Across the state, there are 51,453 general applicants and 4496 priority applicants.
Abbotsbury, west of Sydney, has an expected waiting time of 10 years or more for all categories of properties.
A spokesperson for FACS said that “these changes will ensure that people who are convicted of fraud will not be allowed to remain in public housing.
“Instead, those properties will be allocated to those in need,” the spokesperson said.
The bill is set to be debated in parliament in August 2018.
- More about the bill at the Parliament of NSW.