Public housing debacle: 10-year wait list despite numerous empty homes advocates claim

Thirty public housing homes in the Bega Valley sit empty at the same time NSW government figures show no public housing is available in Merimbula for at least 10 years.

That is the claim of the Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast, who believe a centralised maintenance service for public housing is the issue’s major contributor.

Now an increasing number of concerned voices are calling for maintenance to be carried out by a local contractor so the homes can be used by Bega Valley families in need.

Any maintenance work required for public housing is organised via a centralised contract in Nowra. Prior to a new tenant taking over, public housing properties must be checked, but if any maintenance is needed, however simple, someone must come from Nowra.

The local Social Justice Advocates (SJA) have been working at the coalface of rehousing the homeless and those in need.

Mick Brosnan of the SJA said while there were 30 homes unavailable in Bega Valley, there were “well over 1000” homes sitting empty in the state. He placed the blame on a planning decision to centralise maintenance.

Mr Brosnan said the Social Justice Advocates had contacted Member for Bega Andrew Constance and have suggested that local maintenance contractors are used to speed up the work needed on public housing homes.

However, there appears little hope of public housing becoming available particularly in Merimbula where according to the Department of Housing’s own figures there is a wait of more than 10 years for any type of property.

The same figures show that residents could wait more than 10 years for a one or three-bedroom property in Eden and between two and five years for two or four-bedroom properties.

The department figures show residents of “Bega Valley” (separate from figures for Merimbula or Eden) have a wait of between five and 10 years for one and two-bedroom properties, more than 10 years for a three-bedroom property, but for those looking for a four-bedroom home the wait is two to five years.

In the last couple of years the homeless situation has become so bad in the Bega Valley the SJA purchased caravans, which they use for those finding themselves with nowhere to live. SJA said the crisis shelter at Merimbula’s St Clement’s Church is constantly in use.

“In the last three and a half years we have provided between 500 and 600 nights of accommodation. Our vans are constantly full,” Gavin Bell of the SJA said.

The Social Justice Advocates will be presenting their findings to Bega Valley Shire Council prior to the next meeting on April 26 and will be calling on council to partner with them to push for a new maintenance arrangement for existing government housing.

“We also want to unlock Crown Land to get people off the streets and into homes,” Mr Bell said, adding the SJJA would buy cabins to put on any land made available.

The group is looking for practical support for the establishment of a micro housing scheme.

Council is being urged to make representations to Pru Goward, Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister for Social Housing.

“Councillors have asked BVSC to write to the minister and ask for the situation to be rectified,” council’s director community, relations and leisure Anthony Basford said.

His comments followed a question by councillor Russell Fitzpatrick at the last meeting, who asked if council could assist in ensuring maintenance of social housing was transferred to a local provider – either a not-for-profit or non-government agency – to ensure housing repairs were made to properties to make them available for tenants. 

A Department of Family and Community Services spokeswoman said that the department works quickly to ensure a prompt turnaround when properties become vacant. 

“Like the private sector, FACS is required to inspect vacant dwellings and ensure they are clean, safe and in a habitable standard in accordance with the Residential Tenancies Act before they can be relet. LAHC will undertake any necessary repairs to restore to a standard ready for an incoming tenant. There are currently 13 properties undergoing works before they can be relet in the Bega Valley Shire LGA.

“On any given day there are approximately 1,100 of the 117,000 FACS public housing properties across the state where vacant work is being undertaken.

“FACS contracts maintenance for social housing to the private sector across NSW. Lake Maintenance is responsible for maintenance in the Bega Valley area.

“Tenants are encouraged to report maintenance issues directly to the call centre on telephone 1800 422 322, 24 hours, seven days,” the spokeswoman said.

Social housing is also available through the Sapphire Coast Tenancy Scheme, which is based at the Bega Valley Regional Learning Centre, Merimbula.

The scheme is a non-profit community housing organisation that became incorporated in January 1987 with a voluntary board. It has worked to secure affordable and appropriate housing for people on low to moderate incomes that have inequitable access to housing options.

The scheme is not controlled by Housing NSW and now has 107 properties, many of which are allocated for specialist need groups or managed on behalf of other not-for-profit organisations in the area.

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