Why the gov't wants to evict 'high earners'

April 12, 2013
Public housing tenants risk being thrown into the vagaries of the rental market.

The Tasmanian Labor-Greens government and Housing Tasmania has faced criticism over its proposal to evict public housing tenants who earn above a certain income.

Originally, Consumer Affairs minister Nick McKim wanted the cap to be fixed at $66,000 a year. But a lobby campaign by the Tenants Union forced the government to remove the set limit and make it flexible instead.

The ABC said Housing Minister Cassy O'Connor said income limits would be decided by “regulation” and Housing Tasmania.

This hostile, regressive position is more akin to Thatcherism than a “progressive” Labor-Green government.

It shifts public housing from a right to stable, secure housing for those who don’t own, to welfare-only housing. It is rooted in the ideology of “deserving” and “undeserving” recipients of services provided by the state.

The logic is that once a family who were poor get on their feet and achieve a middle household income, they are no longer “deserving”. In fact they are the “problem”, responsible for the homelessness of others by occupying a house when they don’t “deserve” it.

By evicting them into the harsh vagaries of the private rental market, there is a chance they will again become poor, and thus “deserving”, and back on the waiting list for housing that they used to have, creating a cycle of poverty rather than a pathway out of poverty.

Alternatively, families who rely on secure tenancy for things like access to school for their children, peace of mind or being close to work will be forced to make choices between secure tenancy and income.

There is a logic to reducing income if secure tenancy is highly valued. The more vulnerable the family is, the more it will be valued: “No thanks, I can’t afford to go full time/take that promotion, we’ll get evicted if I do.” That’s a perverse outcome that will have a regressive impact on workforce participation by holding people back, also known as a “poverty trap”.

There are two winners in this: the real estate market – which is facing an all time “high” vacancy rate of 5% in Tasmania – and the law and policy makers held responsible for the figures on the public housing waiting list who can take a cheap and nasty route to house a few more currently homeless people.

No doubt those homeless people will receive the warning that they need to stay on low income or they too will be evicted (along with their family). All housing support providers need to be well aware of the risks of supporting those living in social housing too much.

These provisions are in the Residential Tenancy Amendment Bill, which is before parliament in Tasmania. The bill provides many protections for all tenants, both public and private — such as that the toilet needs to actually work and other minimum standards for a property, ending a tenancy needs to be with reasonable notice, and advertised rents need to be a fixed price (no “rent bidding”).

The bill was developed in genuine consultation with the housing sector. The provision to evict tenants of social housing for earning too much was added after consultation.

The government said the bill offered “certainty” to tenants. The exception to this, apparently, is people who Housing Tasmania deems “high earners”.

The crux of the problem is that there is a lack of affordable housing for low income people who aspire to own a house and for people who can’t afford to buy, to rent affordable and secure housing.

The federal government funds social housing provisions in Tasmania. Yet most of the funding that has gone to Tasmania in the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement went straight back to the federal government to repay Tasmania’s debt from previous investment in public housing.

The federal government needs to raise the revenue and pass it on the states.

In Tasmania, investment in affordable housing that people can live in without the threat of eviction hanging over them is sorely needed.

Stable, secure housing is a right. It underpins the ability to access education and health services. By telling every vulnerable person in all forms of public and social housing that if they are “too successful” in sorting out their life they face the threat of themselves and their family losing their home, Housing Tasmania are making a vile and perverse mistake.

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