Public housing tenants facing $150 rent hikes

NSW government policies including the bedroom tax are designed to get more money out of public housing tenants who can ill afford it, an Illawarra tenants advocacy group claims.

The Illawarra and South Coast Tenants Service has made a submission to the NSW Parliament’s Public, Social and Affordable Housing Inquiry claiming that new policies introduced by Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward have forced tenants to pay more.

Tenancy team leader at the tenants service Warren Wheeler said moves such as the bedroom tax, where tenants with spare rooms were forced to pay higher rent, were a way for the government to reduce a budget shortfall.

‘‘One way to fix that is to start attacking tenants to get more money out of them,’’ Mr Wheeler said.

‘‘Housing [NSW] know as well as anyone that most people aren’t going to readily give up their home where they’ve lived for the last 30 to 40 years, so they will begrudgingly pay the extra $20 or whatever it is.

‘‘Even though it puts them under more financial stress, it relieves them of the social stress of having to move to a new area.’’

Mr Wheeler said the service’s submission also criticised the decision to charge market-rate rents to some tenants based on income.

‘‘As a result, people have received increases upward of $150 a week,’’ he said.

‘‘Now, $150 a week is a lot out of anyone’s budget, let alone someone who is struggling on casual or part-time employment.’’

Mr Wheeler said the service has seen clients in this situation who opted out of employment because it meant they were able to afford to pay the rent.

‘‘We would never encourage people to drop out of employment but we can totally understand why you would,’’ he said.

‘‘If you’re putting in extra hours and as a result you’ve got to pay extra rent, and you may only walk away with  $5 a week more, why would you bother? Some people, they’re going backwards.’’

The tenants service’s submission suggests the focus should be on better housing rather than charging tenants more money.

He said more homes are needed.

‘‘They’re selling off more than they’re building and that’s a problem. They need to be investing in social housing and developing properties that suit the needs of their clients.’’

In September last year, public housing tenant Judith Harrington was told her rent was going up – by  30per cent.

Ms Harrington’s rent for the Warilla house in which she has lived for 14 years was $260 and the letter from Housing NSW informed her  it was rising to $340 – a jump of $80.

‘‘They put that rent up with no valuation at all and no site visit,’’ Ms Harrington said.

‘‘They just willy nilly put it up $80 a week.’’

Ms Harrington said she travelled to Sydney for work five days a week, leaving at 6am and  not getting home until 7.30pm.

Paying $260 week was already a stretch and the extra $80 would have her ‘‘going out the back door’’.

‘‘I was devastated, because I thought there must have been some sort of mistake, because they have not done anything to my house,’’ she said.

‘‘It was in need of repairs when I moved in 14 years ago. The only reason it isn’t in worse degradation is because of my good housekeeping.’’

Ms Harrington is fighting the rent increase in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The tribunal recently ruled in her favour, but Housing NSW has appealed that decision.