NSW public housing tenants hit with bedroom tax

A protest against the bedroom tax in the UK. The same policy has been introduced in NSW.

The number of people on the waiting list for public housing in NSW has increased by 3.5% in the past year to almost 60,000. This is forecast to increase to 80,000 in 2016.

According to a report last year by the NSW auditor-general, the present figure represents only about half of the people in NSW who actually need housing. The one thing that all policy analysts agree on is that demand will increase.

But increased demand is being met by decreasing supply — a deliberate NSW Coalition government policy. In 2012 there were 141,800 households in public housing in NSW. This year the total is 139,500.

From 2010 to 2013 the government sold or demolished 6000 properties. The NSW auditor-general estimates that another 4000 homes will be sold by the end of the year.

These include the 206 homes at Miller’s Point whose sale is being resisted by long-term residents. This callous act which throws people out of the homes that they and their families have lived in for generations is based on the government’s premise that the expected $500 million that this sale will bring will be used to increase public housing stock.

Family and Community Services Minister Gabrielle Upton is said to have “guaranteed” that the money will go back into the social housing system. Yet what she is actually reported in the Fairfax media to have said is that “We can invest the proceeds into more homes”.

“Can” doesn’t mean “will”. In the 2013-14 financial year, the NSW government built just 440 homes. Four years ago, public housing stock was increasing by about 900 homes a year.

The government’s long term policy seems to be the complete abolition of public housing. Last year, the government announced that a “bedroom tax” would be imposed on tenants living in public housing who had an unused bedroom. Single tenants with a spare bedroom pay an extra $20 a week, couples $30 a week.

This is a policy adopted from the Coalition government in Britain. One of the government’s aims is to move 500 people a year into smaller accommodation, even though there is plenty of evidence that such accommodation is in such short supply as to be non-existent.

One public housing tenant in Wollongong told Green Left Weekly she had been asking the department to relocate her to a one bedroom home for two years since her children moved out of their three bedroom home. The only response she has received is that there is none available.

Susan Price, the Socialist Alliance candidate for Summer Hill in the March state election, said that the sale of all public housing should cease immediately and the bedroom tax scrapped.

“We need to immediately begin expanding public housing by 60,000 to meet the present waiting list. We need to then introduce rental caps and to provide low cost housing for all those need it.”

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