NEWS: Public Housing For Private Profit?

Published in the South Sydney Herald, November 2016

For more than 100 years, government funded public housing has been available to low income earners in NSW.

Government owned estates provided working class people, the elderly, new immigrants, young families, and working people in low-income, essential services the opportunity to live in our cities and regional centres, and participate in their local communities.

In recent decades we have seen a shift. Successive governments have under invested in maintaining safe, secure, affordable housing for low-income earners. Many public housing tenants suffer long standing issues around maintenance and safety.

Public housing is now only available to those with the greatest need. And even then, it’s in extremely short supply.

There are now more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for public housing in NSW, with many waiting for more than ten years for a home.

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The Baird Liberal government is selling off and redeveloping public housing. They intend to shift the management of thousands of public housing properties – about a third of all public housing in NSW - to the control of the community housing sector.

Community housing providers have traditionally been not-for-profit organisations that provide important support services for tenants and play an essential role in the provision of affordable housing in NSW.

The big concern about the recent changes is the potential risk it opens up for big corporations to enter into the "business" of supply and management of public housing.

As a way of honouring the work of the late Ross Smith, a staunch public housing advocate, I took up the concerns he raised in last month’s newspaper that the British corporation Serco had “made overtures” to the NSW Government in regards to the management of public and community housing, by asking a question of the Treasurer about this.

Shamefully the Government has failed to rule it out.

Serco became infamous in Australia through their operation of detention centres. They have been criticised by the Australian Human Rights Commission and been the subject of numerous complaints by detainees in those centres. Serco have also run a number of Australian prisons.

In the UK, Serco have held contracts to deliver housing services, including settlement services for asylum seekers, as well as prisons. Many of those operations have been the subject of scandal.

Despite Serco’s international reputation, the NSW Government has made it clear that the door is wide open for Serco to step in to the public housing sector in NSW.

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