Firstly, let’s get some understanding about the way that public housing rental operates.
Housing NSW sets market rents for all public housing properties and reviews them regularly – just like they do in the private market.
This means that most people paying full market rent may have a small increase in their rent each year to reflect the increase in the market.
The market rent is basically what the property would be rented for in the private rental market, taking into account the regular considerations such as property type, location, size and condition of the premises. The difference this year is that Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward has asked the valuers not to discount the rental because properties are in areas used for public housing.
Now, because most people who live in public housing are on low incomes or government benefits (which means they are probably living below the poverty line) they are eligible for a low-income rental rebate. This means they don’t pay full market rent, they pay 25-30 per cent of their household income. And for them, their rent won’t change unless their income does.
A small percentage of public housing tenants pay market rent. This is because they aren’t eligible for rebates, or because the market rent is actually less than 25-30 per cent of their household income. But let’s be clear, these are in all probability not high income earners. They are probably people who were on benefits but whose position has improved. Perhaps they now have a job – and that’s a good thing.
These ‘non-rebatable’ tenants pay a fair market rent for their home, and are contributing to the funds Housing NSW has for building, repairing, and refurbishing its housing stock. Let’s not blame them because other people can’t get into public housing.
It is not OK that 55,000 households are on the public housing waiting list. It’s definitely not OK that families are being put up in hotel rooms with inadequate space and without access to a kitchen. And it’s absolutely not OK that people are living in cars. But let’s not demonise people who are in public housing paying market rent. Let’s not say that because they have managed to improve their standard of living, they should move out.
It’s a false assumption that increasing rent is an incentive to move out of public housing. We should never lose sight of the fact that these are people’s homes, where their lives are lived and where their memories are made. It’s not easy to move – and why would you when your rent will be the same or more? Why would you leave your home, your neighbours and your community? Why would you put your children through the trauma of moving away from their friends, from their activities, and maybe even from their school? And what would be the effect on school communities in public housing areas if populations became more transitory?
Most of all let’s not lose sight of the real issue – there is simply not enough affordable housing and public housing to fill the demand. We need to increase housing stock immediately to address the massive backlog and to alleviate the misery of the people struggling on public housing waiting lists.
Nicky Sloan is CEO of The Illawarra Forum. The Forum supports community organisations, promotes expertise and innovation in community development, fosters industry development and advocates for social justice. www.illawarraforum.org.au