Minggu, 29 September 2013

Waiting list numbers don't add up

We're not the biggest fans of the Daily Telegraph here and do not support the paper because of its ongoing demonisation of public housing tenants. For that reason, we won't be providing links to the original article discussed in this post. However, you can find the original story on their site if you wish. It is entitled 'Families in Sydney left waiting 10 years for housing'

Last night an article appeared online accompanying the updated waiting list times for social housing in NSW. It only took two paragraphs for the alarm bells to start ringing.

Before we have a look at the article itself, it is worth talking about the waiting list numbers a little. We don't believe waiting list numbers are a good indication of housing need, or measuring how many people are struggling. There are a few reasons for this. Public housing eligibility is increasingly restricted to those who have no other option, so there are plenty of people doing it tough who aren't eligible for social housing at all. For instance, according to the most recent ABS Survey on Housing Occupancy and Costs - 32.7% of private renters are paying more than 30% of their gross household income on rent. Many of those people would happily rent with a landlord who calculates rent on what they can pay, rather than what the market suggests someone else could. 180 000 low income private renting households in NSW are in housing stress- that only 57000 appear on the waiting list tells you that the waiting list is not the only indicator of need.

That said, let's have a look at a few particular passages from the article.
Community services minister Pru Goward will today release the details of the public housing wait list, showing that in the past year, 38 per cent of western sydney areas have seen an increase in more than five years in the amount of time it takes an applicant to be housed.
Among the worst affected suburbs are Mount Druitt and Camden, where the wait for one bedroom units increased from between two and five years to more than 10 years.
Hang on. Isn't Mt Druitt one of the areas tagged for moving people into one bedroom units? In one year the wait for one bedroom units has gone from 2-5 years to over 10. How will Housing NSW find places for all those people who are under-occupying?

Further down:
Ms Goward said that while she did not want to see the wait list increase, she was pleased it did not spike to the Auditor General’s prediction of more than 64,000 applicants vying for 35,000 vacant rooms.
This wasn't the Auditor-General's prediction for 64,000 applicants- it was Housing NSW's own modelling. More importantly, it is very misleading for the DT to state that either the Auditor-General, or anyone else, suggested 64000 applicants are vying for 35000 rooms. The big problem with this statement is that the 35000 rooms are supposedly vacant rooms- not homes. No one is yet suggesting that public housing tenants should be forced to share with complete strangers in human sardine boxes.

Last year, the social housing providers housed 8585 applicants from the waiting list. Unless things change, this is approximately the number of places people on the social housing waiting list will be able to access this year too. In fact, the pool of places is likely to get smaller, since Housing NSW is intending to sell off more properties than they will build.

‘’The fact that the number of people who have changed their application for housing has almost tripled since the publication of the housing waiting list shows the power of the transparency and the benefits that flow from it,’’ Ms Goward said.

Transparency can be a wonderful thing indeed, and we do give Minister Goward a lot of credit for bringing back the waiting list times. We wouldn't mind some more of transparency though. For instance, in the recent Budget Estimates FACS was asked to provide details of how many properties were sold in 2011-12 and in 2012-13.  They cited the Annual Reports for the Land & Housing Corporation as holding that information. Unfortunately, the 2011-12 Annual Report is the only one currently published, and it does not hold that information. You can check for yourself here.

“Unfortunately the evidence shows that tenants are staying in public housing for significantly longer periods, which means that they are not moving out of public housing and back into the private market.

If tenants are staying in public housing longer this wouldn't be surprising as HNSW is aimed at housing people who can't house themselves in the private market. After all, the inability to house one's self in the private market is one of the main criteria for being placed on the priority housing waiting list.
Once you're in public housing there are policy decisions made by previous governments, though continued by the current one, that make it very difficult to get out again.

“There are over 35,000 vacant bedrooms in public housing. Until we better utilise our existing stock of public housing, I can’t look the taxpayer in the eye and ask for more money,’’ she said.

We're not sure where this figure of 35,000 vacant bedrooms comes from. Certainly, the Auditor-General only found 17389 'vacant' bedrooms. In the interest of better utilising the existing stock, perhaps Housing NSW could also have a look at the 19224 people crammed in to bedrooms they shouldn't have to be sharing.

We're also not sure the taxpayers, which can include public housing tenants and people on the waiting list, would terribly mind cutting down the waiting list. Social housing is one of the most cost-effective housing solutions available in terms of cost to the taxpayer- certainly cheaper than the taxpayer paying for people to stay in hotels/motels, hospitals, or prisons.

Ms Goward should have complete confidence in making the case for more social housing places to her colleagues in Treasury. The Auditor-General made the point several times that many of public housing's woes are as a result of a lack of spending. Selling off current housing in order to raise the money to carry out maintenance is just one example. We'd certainly support a move to increase the supply of social housing, and we suspect the families on the waiting list, and those off it, would too.
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