Insecure housing a big problem in the inner west

June 29, 2012

The problem of homelessness, high rentals and unlicensed boarding houses in Sydney’s inner west — often though of as one of the wealthier areas of Sydney — is growing, said Paul Adabie, acting director of the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre (NNC).

Adabie told Green Left Weekly these acute housing problems faced by the most disadvantaged and vulnerable.

The NSW Department for Family and Community Services says that as of last October, 56,056 people are on the public housing waiting list.

Australians for Affordable Housing — a national coalition of housing, welfare and community sector groups — says 300,000 NSW householders (180,000 of which are renters) face “housing stress”. Housing stress is the term to describe when people have to pay more than 30% of their average weekly income on rent or mortgage payments.

Adabie said that a big problem in the Marrickville area is the large number of unlicenced boarding houses — leaving tenants at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords. He said council figures indicate there are about 200 unlicensed boarding houses in the area.

However, he says the figure could be more than 300. Typically, boarding houses are tenanted by lower-income people, including students, many of who suffer from mental health problems.

Adabie said that those living in boarding houses are technically classified as “homeless” because they have no security and no rights and can be evicted at any time.

Marrickville council has the right to inspect these properties only for fire safety purposes. Adabie said that the NSW government is removing local government from playing any role to make boarding-house owners more accountable and accomodation more affordable.

He said that local government is closer to the community and it could well play a big role in ensuring tenants of boarding houses are not exploited financially.

Adabie said he is also concerned about the state government's “new generation” boarding house policy, under which the government gives $10,000 a room to developers to convert buildings and homes into boarding houses.

He said: “The ‘new generation’ boarding house policy is a boon for developers (who pay less land tax) and opens the way for unscrupulous landlords to use the long waiting lists to rent out tiny rooms for very high rentals.

“While the state government is offering generous subsidies to developers, it has not addressed basic minimum standards in boarding houses.”

The NSW government has not appointed a housing minister. Instead, it has nominated the Department of Fair Trading as the governing body for this increasingly unregulated sector. It is also continuing the previous ALP government’s policy of selling off public housing to private interests.

[Josie Evans and Pip Hinman are Socialist Alliance candidates for the north ward in the Marrickville council elections. Josie has worked as a tenant’s rights advocate, and both are familiar with rent stress. The Socialist Alliance’s housing policy is here.]

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