16 Aug 2015

Australians become coy over state housing transfer

From Insight, 8:12 am on 16 August 2015

As New Zealand has pushed ahead with plans for state housing, across the Tasman, Queensland has called a halt on proposals to move virtually all its stock over to community housing providers.

A new state government came in earlier this year and it has radically changed direction.

Listen to Insight: State Housing and Oz Providers

Current Queensland state housing minister Leeanne Enoch wanted the percentage of public housing transferred to  not-for-profit sector management to stay at about 30 percent, while she made sure everything was working out as planned.

The previous administration had a target of a 90 percent transfer by 2020.

But one project too far down the line to be stopped was a renewal project for Logan, not far from Brisbane. The city has a very high proportion of public housing and provided accommodation for lower paid workers. The transfer of stock to the management of the not-for-profit sector was the largest ever undertaken either in the state or across Australia.

Queensland Housing Minister Leeanne Enoch

Queensland Housing Minister Leeanne Enoch Photo: ( RNZ / Alexander Robertson )

"We're looking at a whole geographic location we are handing over," Ms Enoch said.

A provider that was part of the new group set up for the initiative was Compass, one of the groups that has flagged interest in taking part in the transfer of state housing stock in New Zealand.

Compass is one of Australia's largest community housing providers and has joined forces with a not-for-profit developer for the huge undertaking in Logan.

The initiative was designed as a 20-year project and according to the director of Logan City Community Housing, Lyndall Robertshaw, nearly 5000 homes will be transferred. As with the plans for the sale or lease of state housing in New Zealand, there will also be redevelopment and stock renewal.

Lyndall Robertshaw Director of Logan City Community Housing

Lyndall Robertshaw Director of Logan City Community Housing Photo: ( RNZ / Alexander Robertson )

One long-term advocate and public housing tenant in Logan, Jessie Scott, described the proposals for her home town as exciting, but she is desperate that the community's voice is heard as well.

Logan public housing tenant Jessie Scott

Logan public housing tenant Jessie Scott Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"Tenants are the eyes and ears on the ground and can feed information back to the housing providers when things are going wrong and need fixing," she said.

Just as in New Zealand, Australia has problems with too many three-bedroom homes and not enough accommodation for indiviudals.

But Ms Scott was worried that planners were not taking into account how people live from day to day.

 "We're stopping community, because you're having one-bedroom places so that when someone gets sick, there's nowhere for someone else ( to stay ) to help them, like for family to come."

The Housing Minister grew up in Logan and still has friends and family living there.

"I have to answer to my old school mates and neighbours every time I go home," she said.

But it's more than just local accountability. Ms Enoch wanted to test the whole premise that transferring stock in this way is the best option for providing homes for those who, for one reason or another, struggle to put a roof over their heads.

"There are a lot of things to pay close attention to; we need to be testing some of those philosophies ... my biggest concerns are about the people who access these properties. We want to be able to protect people and make sure they are taken care of. So we want to make sure we are not seeing rents increase because the (not-for-profit) sector wants to expand for some reason," she said.     

"I want to be bold and innovative and think, 'Is this the way forward?" but I also want to be cautious on the behalf of the people we will be serving."

More on this story

Follow Insight on Twitter