Kamis, 09 Juli 2009

Budget ’09-’10: The second take – housing the homeless

In addition to the already discussed “Housing Construction Acceleration Plan”, the guts of the State Housing budget are all about building new social housing properties and providing new accommodation options for disadvantaged people, thus relieving pressure on homeless persons’ support services.

The investment is substantial – around 9,500 new homes are to be built for social housing in New South Wales over the next three years. Much of this will be paid for by grants from the Federal Government’s Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan, with the State Government kicking in about $1 billion extra for good measure.

The Governments – both State and Federal – are onto a winner here, as they’ve identified two very large and important birds to taunt with the one stone: a faltering economy, and a social housing market in disarray. I say taunt, because it remains to be seen if this investment can deliver a knockout blow on either of these.

It’s great news for the housing and construction industry, as it will ensure the continued employment, at least in the short term, of many who rely on the industry to earn a crust. It is also great news for the social housing sector, which has been trying to survive on mere scraps for so long that it might have even forgotten how to provide a decent “housing service” to the people of New South Wales.

I hasten to add, from the rather cynical perspective afforded to me by this cozy spot on the Brown Couch, that it appears any benefit to the homeless or to social housing providers is a mere by-product of the economic stimuli. Keeping people gainfully employed is the main game… What a handy coincidence that we just happen to need houses for poor unfortunates as well!

Now, having paid some attention to various comments made by the Federal Housing Minister, The Hon. Tanya Plibersek, over the last couple of weeks, it seems the reasoning is this: “if we build them, they will come”.

Building more social housing provides improved exit strategies for users of crisis accommodation, which means a higher turnover, and better outcomes for users. But let's not forget the restrictive nature of crisis accommodation, which is usually targeted to a particular type of need and thus not generally available to all who would use it. Let us also remember the very narrow criteria applicants must meet before they will be urgently housed by the social housing system, or the finality of loss of social housing if for some reason a tenancy ends on bad terms.

While the need for housing options of last resort continues to increase (see the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s recently released “Counting the Homeless 2006” report), providers of housing of last resort continue to operate with a general policy of exclusion. It is, after all, much harder to get into a social housing tenancy than it is to get kicked out of one.

Building more homes is a step in the right direction. But building a social housing system that works will take more than just bricks, mortar and money in the coffers…