Rabu, 07 September 2011

More on the NSW State Budget...

The O'Farrell Government has missed a golden opportunity to provide Social Housing Month on the Brown Couch with some good news, despite the unusual step of releasing the State Budget in September this year...

Of course, we've always got our fingers and toes crossed for a sudden increase in funding for the construction and maintenance of affordable dwellings (or 'homes', as the more practically minded among us like to call them...) and that would have made for some good reading on the Brown Couch. But alas, we'll have to hold onto our hopes for at least another year.

As Chris has already discussed in his earlier post, social housing tenants on a pension can expect a couple of rent increase in the coming year. But what else will the budget deliver for social housing in NSW?

The Government's own glossy press release reads like the who's who of handouts. Says Pru Goward, Minister for Family and Community Services.:

“This budget will assist more than 450,000 people across NSW, including more than 330,000 people living in public, community and Aboriginal housing,

“This Budget will also assist 38,000 people with crisis accommodation.

“$45.7 million will be available to help at least 37,000 households with Temporary Accommodation and Rentstart to help secure accommodation in the private rental market.

“A further $119 million has been set aside for new leases from the private rental market and to continue leases on 9,285 homes already let for public and community housing.”

Yes, yes. That all sounds very good... but will you build anything new?

Greg Pearce, Minister for Finance and Services, chimes in:

“This investment is underpinned by a new approach in social housing investment targeting the building of communities rather than construction of towers.”

Hmmmm. Construction of towers? But when exactly was the last tower built? Didn't this new approach start a few years ago already?

Says Mr Pearce:

“This will lead to reduced concentrations of social housing, support the social and economic participation of residents, and contribute to a more sustainable and affordable social housing system,"

Righto then. But this all sounds very familiar...

Well, perhaps we'd better get down to brass tacks. Can you show us the money?

Areas of expenditure in the 2011-12 Budget include:

- $221.5 million to build 529 new social housing homes and to complete 1,072 units that were started in previous years.

- $203.2 million for routine repairs and maintenance in public and community housing.

- $195 million to upgrade public and community housing, including crisis accommodation such as women’s refuges and emergency accommodation for homeless people.

- $23.6 million for private rental subsidies to assist people with disabilities.

- $17.7 million for the Building Stronger Communities program to improve the quality of the built environment and community in seven major locations.

- $5.5 million to continue with the rollout of Start Safely, a program to provide assistance to 567 households leaving domestic and family violence.

- $2.4 million to improve environmental sustainability in public housing by replacing electric hot water systems with solar systems and retrofit ceiling insulation.

Alright... and how does this compare to the last budget?

According to analysis provided by NCOSS, the total budget of $1.93b is down from $2.53b in the last financial year. This is largely due to the winding up of the Commonwealth stimulus plan, which was good for $418m in the last budget. There is no new growth plan for social housing. The National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) has stalled.

So what should we make of all this, as advocates for social and affordable housing? It appears to be a "business as usual" kind of budget that should just about keep the business ticking over - or maybe we should say ticking?

It offers no real innovation or inspiration, and could be used to persuade the cynics among us that the State government doesn't believe that a sustainable social housing sector will make a key contribution to an affordable housing market.

Fingers crossed for next year, eh?

(A note to our friends in the Aboriginal Housing sector - this information does not include any of the budget allocations for the AHO. Apologies, but we did not want it to look like we'd simply tacked it on as an afterthought. More on that later...)