Socialist candidate says 'expand public housing, not sell it off'

January 29, 2016

The New South Wales Baird government has announced an historic decision to privatise public housing.

In a $22 billion bonanza for the government's property developer mates, public housing estates will be torn down and rebuilt into places where private tenants and homeowners outnumber social housing tenants by 70% to 30%.

NSW Coalition Minister for Social Housing Brad Hazzard announced the state government's "Future Directions for Social Housing" policy. It includes the transfer of 35% of public housing to community housing organisations.

Hazzard said the 10-year plan would mean 23,500 new and replacement social and affordable housing dwellings would be constructed by the private sector, ranging from high rises to townhouses.

The number of private rental subsidies will be increased by 60% to 37,000 by 2025. Meanwhile, the waiting list for public housing in NSW sits at 60,000.

The Demographia international survey found that declared that Australian cities are "severely unaffordable", with average house prices representing 12 times the average income.

The plan for the sale of NSW public housing is in line with neoliberal trends in state and federal government policies over many years.

While some social and community housing organisation representatives initially welcomed the government's plan, after meetings with the minister and officials on January 27, sector spokespeople were more critical.

Wendy Hayhurst of the NSW Federation of Housing Associations described the mood after the meetings as "underwhelmed". Of the 23,500 houses promised, only 9000 would be additional stock.

This was well short of the "massive additional need" that was present in Sydney, she said. Missing were planning controls requiring a percentage of any major development to include "significant social and affordable housing targets," she added.

"The 10-year framework on public housing released today is a recipe for more disadvantage and more unaffordability in the housing market," the Hands Off Glebe housing advocacy group said. The group condemned "the outright theft of public property to aid the developer, the construction companies and not the people who need a home."

Denis Doherty from Hands Off Glebe said: "The private sector cannot solve the housing crisis, and neither can 'housing providers'. The framework is a con, designed to obscure theft and leave unaffordability a more entrenched problem for years to come."

Barney Gardner, spokesperson for Save Millers Point, which has been fighting attempts by the government to sell nearly 400 public housing residences in inner Sydney, said: "The new NSW housing policy is no answer to the housing crisis. Minister Hazzard is intending to hand over all public housing to community housing organisations, in a move to get public housing off the government's books.

"Compared to public housing, social or community housing doesn't have the security of tenure protections. Often, they only provide two-year leases, and rents are generally higher.

"We need to fight to defend the public housing system, not erode it by stealth."

The Socialist Alliance candidate for the federal seat of Sydney Peter Boyle, said: “We are totally opposed to the federal and state governments' privatisation of public housing and giving big hand-outs to developers and private landlords from the public purse.

"Our policy is that housing is a basic human right that should not be reduced to a commodity only available at the whim of the market. We aim for housing that is affordable, secure, good quality and appropriately located, for all.

"The Socialist Alliance advocates a massive expansion of public housing. It should not be a residual service grudgingly provided only to those who can prove they are extremely poor. It should be available for all workers who want it.

"In Venezuela, for example, the government is carrying out a massive program of public housing construction — tens of thousands of units are being built each year, moving families from slums into modern apartments. There is no reason why a rich country like Australia cannot do the same.

"State and federal governments should construct high-quality public housing for working-class people on a large scale. This would also create many jobs.

"Governments should establish a large-scale building program to make good quality, creatively designed, appropriately located, affordable, long-term public housing with a low carbon footprint to suit a wide variety of domestic arrangements, including the needs of people living communally, in extended families and in Aboriginal communities.

"We should extend community control of public housing through democratically elected housing boards comprised of tenants and housing workers.

"In moving to properly regulate the private sector, governments should address Australia's spiralling rental price increases by implementing rent control laws similar to those in Los Angeles and New York, which limit the amount by which rent can be increased and all rent is capped at a maximum of 20% of income.

"We support mandating high standards for private accommodation and requiring landlords to fix problems and maintain private housing stock in good condition. We should nationalise and renovate all substandard landlord holdings.

"We also call on governments to provide low-interest home loans to those in need; extend rent assistance to low-income home buyers for mortgage assistance; and extend rent assistance to those receiving Austudy payments.

"The Socialist Alliance also campaigns for the expansion of support for resident-controlled housing cooperatives.

"Finally, we call for the elimination of capital gains tax exemptions and negative gearing, which work to inflate the market and keep lower-income people out of home ownership.

"The general housing affordability crisis in Australia is a product of the 'free-market' madness of the capitalist system, in which human need is subordinated to big-business greed.

“Let's put people before profit, and defend and extend the public housing system, not sell it off to the private sector."

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