Friday, April 13, 2018

Getting in to hot water: energy charges for common hot water systems

This post authored by Grant Arbuthnot, Principal Solicitor at the Tenants' Union.
There has recently been some developments in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for renters with common hot water systems. The Tribunal has found, and the TU agrees, that tenants are not liable for paying the energy bill required to heat hot water systems which are shared by multiple homes.

What is a common hot water system?
Some blocks of flats have common hot water systems.  This is where one water heating plant provides hot water to all the flats – individual flats do not have their own hot water systems. This was probably to keep the costs of building the flats lower.
How do they work?
Most common hot water systems are gas fired.  A large central hot water heater is connected to each flat.   Some have a circulation pump to reduce waste by cold water coming from the tap first.  The good systems are well insulated and well maintained. 
In a flat with its own hot water system, the tenant pays the gas or electricity bill used to heat the water. However, this is through an account with their own separate meter.
How were bills being calculated in common hot water systems?
Gas and water entering the plant are metered to allow calculation of the energy per water volume ratio (also known as a common or conversion factor) for the system, over a billing period.  This ratio is then applied to the water volume measured by each flat’s hot water flow meter.  This produces a figure for gas energy for each flat that can be multiplied by the tariff charged by the energy provider on the gas used.
What can go wrong?
We find that with both common and individual hot water systems, some are not well insulated or maintained.  The bad ones leak heat and water and they deliver much cold water, at the tap, before it gets hot.  Gas combustion may also be inefficient by neglect.
In both types of hot water system, because the tenant pays the bill, there is no incentive for the landlord to ensure the efficiency of the system unless the inefficiency can be seen as a repair issue. When tenants complain about common hot water systems, inefficiency is always mentioned. That is, it is very expensive to heat the water and users receive much higher bills than they would expect.
See the end of the article for an explanation of how we might calculate efficiency, and what we should expect in terms of the cost to heat water. It is not unreasonable for tenants to expect an efficiency of 70-80%. Two bills we have obtained from tenants were almost half as efficient and there are common hot water systems that are even more inefficient again.
Good news!
However, there is good news for tenants with common hot water systems. The Residential Tenancies Act 2010 says, at section 38, that the tenant shall pay for gas supplied to the tenant at the premises, if the premises are separately metered.  Further, the Act says, at section 40, that the landlord shall pay for gas supplied to the tenant at the premises if the premises are not separately metered.
With a common hot water system the gas is not supplied to the tenant at the premises or separately metered.  Therefore, the landlord shall pay the gas bills.
This has been backed up by two recent tenancy cases (though neither have been published):
In one, the landlord agreed that the landlord should pay the gas bills before it went to a decision.
In the other, NCAT decided that the landlord should be paying the bills going forward and ordered repayment of some of the tenants’ previous gas payments.
So, if your apartment has a common hot water system, where more than one unit is sharing the hot water tank, then you are not obliged to pay for the gas or other energy used to heat the water. If you think you might have a system like this, get advice from your local Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Service.
Calculating efficiency
The bills people receive for common hot water systems are confusing because the units of volume are not litres and there are figures called Units, Multiplier, Conversion factor, Heating value, Pressure factor and Base usage.  Bills do state daily use of energy and compare it to prior bills.  This is helpful, but it does not tell you how efficient the plant is.  An efficiency figure would tell us what proportion of the heat of the gas used is actually getting into the water.
It is possible to estimate the efficiency of your common hot water system, by making two assumptions:
  • it takes 4.186 kJ to heat a litre of water one degree Celsius &
  • the water is being heated 500 (from 15 to 650C)
Note that the second assumption may vary between systems and weather conditions.
Based on these assumptions, 209.3 kJ per litre (4.186 x 50) would be 100% efficient.  This can also be expressed as 0.2093 MJ/l.
The two bills we obtained from tenants have effective energy per water volume ratios of 0.494311 and 0.49123.  The bills use MJ as the energy unit.  Assuming the order of magnitude for MJ/l as 0.49… the efficiencies for the bills are:
-        44.33% (0.4433 = 0.2093 /0.494311) &
-        42.61% (0.4261 = 0.2093 /0.49123) respectively.
EWON (Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW) investigated the gas bills of one of the tenants and reported that the common factor [or conversion factor] for an efficient common hot water system ranges from . . . 0.3 to 0.7 . . .
Doing the same calculation (divide into 0.2093) for that range we get:

% efficiency

What could we compare these figures with?
An American National Standards and Technology study from the 1990s demonstrates that the greatest difference to thermal efficiency of electric domestic hot water systems is made by insulation.  The uninsulated units averaged 40.6% (which is similar to the cases we described above) and the insulated units averaged 88.2%.  American advertising claims 80% thermal efficiency for a conventional domestic natural gas hot water system.  Elgas (Australia) correlates 4 to 7 star ratings with 73 to 94% for LPG domestic hot water systems.
Note that all the above figures are for the water heating plant only.  They take no account of loss of heat or water between the plant and the flats.  Calculating efficiency figures at the tap would need temperature measurements at the tap.  That would provide information on the efficiency of the whole system, plant to tap.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Wealthy landlords and more sharehousing: how the rental sector is changing

This article by Chris Martin, UNSW was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article

[TUNSW comment: This research highlights the need for modernised renting regulations. Renting in Australia in the 21st Century is increasingly for everyone - but our laws are designed to entrench insecurity and diminish the ability of renting households to create homes for themselves.]

 More people are becoming heavily indebted by buying rental properties and shared accommodation is flourishing, as third party tech platforms help people find a place without a real estate agent.
A new report from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute explains how the private rental market is changing over time for both landlords and tenants.

Over the 10 years to 2016, the number of renters grew 38% - twice the rate of household growth. More renters now are couples, or couples with children, so it seems the sector is shaking its image of unstable housing or perhaps these people are left with few other options.

Households by type, 2006 and 2016
The report analyses data from the 2016 Census, the 2013-14 Survey of Income and Housing and the 2014 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. It also draws on interviews conducted with 42 people involved in all aspects of the private rental sector: financing, provision, access and management.Rental property ownership also grew. We found the number of households with an interest in a rental property grew and the number that own multiple properties grew slightly as well.

But the typical landlord is still the conventional “mum and dad” investor. Two-thirds of rental investor households have two incomes, and 39% have children.

However they are also mostly high-income and high-wealth households: 60% are in both the highest income and highest wealth bracket. Interestingly, about one in eight landlords is themselves a private renter.

Housing finance ($A), 2000 - 2016

The biggest change in ownership is in finances: owners of rental properties are relying more heavily on debt.

Financing rental properties


The people we interviewed highlighted the Australian Prudential Regulation Authorities’ (APRA) guidance to lenders on loan serviceability calculations as having the greatest impact on overall investment levels and investor decisions.

Adding to the complexity is the proliferation of intermediaries, such as mortgage brokers and wealth advisers. These advisers are telling borrowers what lenders and loan products to use to maximise their borrowing power and negotiate lender and regulator requirements.

Houses are the most commonly rented in Australia, but everywhere rental markets are moving away from this and towards dwellings like apartments.

There’s now more diversity in rental properties too. For example the building of high-rise student accommodation, “new generation boarding houses” and granny flats.

These allow landlords to house more people in the one building, increasing revenue and making management more efficient.

The informal sector of shared accommodation appears to be flourishing, like improvising shared rooms and lodging-style accommodation in apartments and houses.

Finding a rental


People have moved from finding rentals in real estate agents’ high street offices and onto online platforms. New third-parties like apps and other digital platforms offer non-cash alternative bond products, schedule property inspections, collect rents, and organise repairs.

Even though these technological innovations avoid agents, they have in fact increased their share of private rental sector management. Agents themselves are use these platforms to change their businesses, and the structure of their industry.

Our research found that revenue from an agency’s property management business (its “rent roll”) has become increasingly important. Some players in the industry are consolidating their businesses around it, to make higher profits from tech-enabled efficiencies.

However, the real estate business still depends on building personal relationships, particularly in high-end markets.

The new tech platforms of the private rental sector raise issues for tenants too, particularly in terms of the personal information they collect. For example, one of the online platform operators told us they looked forward to using applicants’ information to score or rank applicants. Another one of the new alternative bond providers uses automatic “trust scoring” of personal information to price its product.

These innovations may be convenient to use, and may give some tenants an advantage in accessing housing - but at the expense of others who are already disadvantaged.

Rental properties meeting demand?


If the private rental sector is going to meet the demand for settled housing, governments will have to intervene. This can’t be left to technological innovation, or higher income renters exercising their consumer power.

Federal or state governments could create public registers of landlords, or licensing requirements, to police landlords who are not “fit and proper” and exclude them from the sector.

There could also be stronger laws around tenancy conditions and protections for tenants against retaliatory action. The Poverty Inquiry in the 1970s set the basic model of our present laws and they haven’t changed much.

Tenants’ personal information also needs to be protected, to properly take account of the rise of the online application platforms; another is the informal sector, which is currently in a regulatory blindspot.

The ConversationThe popular emphasis on “mum and dad” investors diminishes expectations of landlords. Rental property investment should be regarded as a business that requires skill and effort. As for-profit providers of housing services, landlords should be held to standards that ensure the right to a dignified home life.

Chris Martin, Research Fellow, City Housing, UNSW

Thursday, March 29, 2018

FACS: Alternative waiting list figure

On 20 March 2018 NSW Family and Community Services (FACS) Housing placed on their website updated information about waiting lists, which is now current to 30 June 2017.

They call it the 'Social Housing Expected Waiting Times dashboard' and the link is here.

The dashboard does not show historical figures, but the Productivity Commission's Report on Government Services shows the waiting list at 30 June 2017 across New South Wales has dropped significantly.

Source: Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 'Report on government services 2018', Productivity Commission, 23/1/18, Table 18A.5. Figures for 2012 to 2012 from previous reports. (You can view Table 18A.5 here.) This data excludes people who have applied for community housing only. Most applicants in NSW may be offered either community housing or public housing.
This news is too good to be true. As mentioned in our blog here, figures for 30 June 2017 exclude 'suspended applicants'. Suspended applicants won't be offered properties during suspension, but unlike closed applications, if their suspension ends their waiting time will be counted from the original registration of their application.

One way of thinking of the difference is that suspended applicants are assumed to want and be eligible for social housing, but there is currently a reason not to offer them a property. Closed applicants are assumed not to want or be eligible for public housing. For more detail see the 'Managing the NSW Housing Register Policy' page.

FACS Housing's dashboard has separated out 'General' and 'Priority' applications and also has made a notation that their figure for 30 June 2017 excludes 'suspended' applications and, accordingly, 'this data is not strictly comparable to published data in previous years'. Check here.

FACS Housing kindly has supplied the number of suspended applications at 30 June 2017. These stand at 5,499.

So, the total number of applicants on the waiting list at 30 June 2017 arising out of the additional information supplied by FACS Housing = 'General' + 'Priority' + 'Suspended' = 51,453 + 4,496 + 5,499 = 61,448.

The alternative waiting list figure at 30 June 2017 is 61,448.

We now are able to compare waiting list figures from previous years.
Sources: For Productivity Commission data, see foot of previous histogram. For FACS Housing data for 30 June 2017, check here and for 30 June 2016, check here. For figures for 30 June 2012 to 30 June 2015, check similar links to the last one. The 2017 figures shown above for both agencies include the 5,499 suspended applications. We have added these because suspended applications were included in previous years.

There has been a steady increase in waiting list numbers over the last five years. Indeed, FACS Housing's waiting list figures show an increase of just over 10 per cent in this period. This does not bode well for the future. Check out Nigel Gladstone’s recent article in The Sydney Morning Herald here on why more people are joining a decade-long wait for public housing in a queue that stretches past 55,000 people ... we say past 60,000 people.


It is unclear why the waiting list figures published in Table 18A.5 of the Productivity Commission's Report on Government Services (51,571) and those now published by FACS Housing (55,949) vary. Both exclude the number of suspended applications and both come from the same original source. Indeed, this has been the story for the last few years, although not so pronounced.

Further notations in Note (d) of Table 18A.5 here may tell some of the story:
- waitlist data should be used with caution as over counting may stem from the use of a single integrated social housing waiting list (since 2010) for public housing and SOMIH (which includes those who have also applied for community housing, but not applicants for community housing only).

- fewer waitlist applications were closed in 2015-16 because a review and redesign of the annual Housing Eligibility Review (HER) process delayed its completion until 2016-17. Data for 2016-17 may not be comparable to 2015-16 due to outstanding data remediation at that time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

FACS Housing inner city exclusion policy won't work

A couple of weeks back you may have seen news reports that people convicted of drug supply or drug manufacture offences will now be excluded from public housing in a number of inner city Sydney suburbs.

FACS Housing announced the new Inner City Local Allocation Strategy at the end of February and immediately sent out letters to applicants on the waiting list for inner city areas. The letters informed applicants they are now required to consent to a criminal record check if they want to be considered for housing in Redfern, Waterloo, Surry Hills and Glebe. If they are found to have any drug dealing or drug manufacture convictions within the last 5 years applicants will then be excluded from these locations, although they may be offered a property in other inner city suburbs.

The strategy was introduced with no consultation with the range of organisations that generally assist the applicants, particularly those who will be impacted by its introduction. It is also unclear whether any consultation occurred with the residents of the local communities affected.

If we had been asked we would have told FACS straight out - we think this is bad policy. The strategy is deeply flawed and won't achieve the outcomes the Government is hoping for.

To begin with the strategy could be unlawfully discriminatory. In the Guardian story linked above, Community Restorative Centre points out the policy will disproportionately impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander applicants who make up 25% of people released from prison in the affected areas, as well as applicants with psycho-social disability (for example issues with mental health and/or addiction). It is not just those who have convictions who will be excluded, but also applicants who don't consent to a criminal record check or simply don't respond to the initial letter requesting consent to undertake the check. And we know there are a range of reasons - poor literacy or language barriers, change of address, illness, and so on - why vulnerable applicants might be flagged as 'no response' in the system and excluded on that basis.

What will be the impact for applicants in the area? Those who are excluded from Redfern, Waterloo, Surry Hills and Glebe because of a prior conviction will effectively be blacklisted from 77% of the public housing in the 'CS1' (Inner Sydney) area. By funneling a greater proportion of people into a smaller number of properties (the remaining 23% in Inner Sydney locations), this may mean a longer time spent on the waiting list to get into other housing in the area. There were 1740 applicants on the list for CS1 at 30 June 2017 and 5-10 year waiting lists for all property types.

Apart from the lack of consultation before its introduction, the strategy has also appeared to be rushed in its drafting and implementation. The only policy documentation that FACS has pointed towards when they've been asked for more detail on the strategy are a basic factsheet on FACS' website and a reference within their current Eligibility and Allocations policy that simply states allocation of public housing properties may be subject to a Local Allocation Strategy. Neither of these offer much practical guidance or detail on how FACS expect the strategy will be implemented and administered.

The policy has changed in a few significant ways in the last month. It changed from only applying to estates to now covering whole suburbs, from being policy to 'a one year trial', and originally applied also to people who had only been charged with offences, this has since been dropped. The latter two changes are positive, and likely the result of significant pushback from the housing and homelessness, legal and community sectors.

But perhaps most concerning is the 'perpetual punishment' approach of the strategy - the way it further penalises an individual who has already been punished. Mindy Sotiri, Program Director at the Community Restorative Centre, told the Guardian Australia:

“The key thing for me [about the introduction of the strategy] is that this is a really troubling precedent that extends punishment beyond the judicial system, which really has not worked anywhere ...

The whole point of the work that we do is saying ‘you might have done something wrong, but you’ve done your time, and now we’re going to give you every opportunity to build a life that’s not about going to prison’.”

Excluding people from housing in certain areas - where they might already be accessing support or treatment services, have employment, or have family or friends or other established supports - has the potential to undermine their attempts to reintegrate with the community and rebuild their lives.

What does work? Appropriately resourcing the support services and programs that help empower individuals and communities to address the underlying and complex issues leading to drug use and/or dealing. As Sotiri told the Guardian:

“It’s not very exciting politics to say ‘we’re going to tackle homelessness now’ or ‘we’re going to put case managers into the estates’. None of that sounds very exciting or innovative, but it’s actually what’s required.”

Just the basics (or what we know about the Inner City Local Allocation Strategy so far)

Who does this affect?
This will affect you if you are currently on the waiting list or will be applying in future for public housing in the CS1 (Inner City) allocation zone and CS3 (Leichhardt Marrickville) allocation zone. All public housing applicants who wish to be housed in the CS1 or CS3 zones will be asked to 'consent' to have their criminal record checked.

This does not affect existing tenants in the area.

This does not affect existing tenants in another allocation zone applying for a transfer into the area.

This should not affect you if you are a tenant subject to a management transfer or are being forced to relocate during the redevelopment of the Waterloo Estate.

How does it work?
When applicants are nearing the top of the waiting list they will be sent an information letter and consent form requesting consent for FACS to undertake a check. After receiving the form applicants will have two weeks to return their forms.

The check will involve sharing of information only in relation to drug supply and/or manufacture. No information on other convictions will be sought from NSW Police or received by FACS. If applicants do not consent to the criminal record check they will not be considered for housing in Redfern, Waterloo, Surry Hills and Glebe. Applicants who refuse consent for a criminal record check may still receive offers for housing in other suburbs in the CS1 allocation zone.

If the criminal record check indicates an applicant has a criminal conviction for drug dealing or manufacture in the last 5 years they will be excluded from housing in Redfern, Waterloo, Surry Hill and Glebe. They may still receive offers for housing in other suburbs in the CS1 allocation zone.

The 5 years is counted from the date when FACS make the inquiry of the Police.

What if an 'excluded' applicant has a good reason for wanting to live in the area?
Applicants excluded because of prior convictions who have a compelling reason for wanting to live in the area can appeal. FACS has not provided clear guidance around this but reasons might include things like having children in school or childcare in the area, established relationship with support or treatment services, family supports. Connection to the area will be considered for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander applicants. FACS has given some indication that requests for consideration will be sympathetically assessed.

Before requesting consideration on these grounds applicants will generally need to follow the general process and first consent to a criminal record check - though FACS has given some indication that if compelling reasons exist an applicant can approach directly to ask for an exemption from exclusion and avoid a criminal record check.

If excluded on the basis of a conviction an applicant can then appeal the decision and apply for consideration. FACS advises that internal reviews will be overseen by the district Director of Housing Services in the first instance. Applicants then have the right to an independent review by the Housing Appeals Committee if they don't think the decision was fair.

Need advice?
If you have received a letter about the Inner City Local Allocation Strategy and are worried about how it might impact you and/or require advice or assistance for an appeal against an exclusion get in touch with the local Inner Sydney Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service at Redfern Legal Centre.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

FACS and figures: Delving behind the figures for the waiting list and new social housing dwellings

Post authored by Robert Mowbray, Policy Officer - Older Tenants.

On Monday, 5 March 2018 the Minister for Family and Community Services, Pru Goward, sent out a media release
Hundreds of people on the social housing waiting list and hundreds more will have access to brand new homes as the NSW Government continues to deliver on its promise to build more housing through the sale of properties in Millers Point. ... We are assisting vulnerable people by building new social housing. ... To date, the Government has completed construction on 775 new homes with a further 372 under construction ... funded through the sales program so far.
Let’s delve behind the figures for the waiting list ... and other vulnerable people, and for new social housing dwellings in this State.

Waiting list

At 30 June 2017 the social housing waiting list in New South Wales remains in excess of 50,000 applicants.
Source: Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 'Report on government services 2018', Productivity Commission, 23/1/18, Table 18A.5. Figures for 2008 to 2012 from previous reports. (You can view Table 18A.5 here.)

The seriousness of this figure is reinforced by the fact that specialist homelessness services provided support to just under 75,000 people in New South Wales in 2016-17. (View Table CLIENTS.1 here.)

And, indeed, the recently released 2016 ABS Census ‘Estimating homelessness 2016’ data shows that the number of people who are homeless in New South Wales has soared by more than one third between the 2011 and 2016 censuses. On Census day in 2016 they numbered 37,715 people. You can check this out here. You can read more about this here.

In a recent article in The Conversation, Emeritus Professor Gavin Wood and others of RMIT University, assert that ‘public housing is the most important factor in preventing homelessness among vulnerable people’ and, further, ‘the empirical evidence also suggests that community housing fails to provide the same protection for people at risk of homelessness.’ Read their article here.

Yes, the Minister is correct in saying there are hundreds of people on the social housing waiting list. Indeed, over the last ten years this figure has been increasing. However, the figure at 30 June 2017 represents a decrease of 7,460 (12.6%) on the previous year’s. Note (d) in Table 18A.5 (referred to in the above figure) states that ‘data for 2016-17 exclude suspended applicants’. So what is meant by suspending an application? You will find the answer in a policy document here . FACS or a community housing provider participating in Housing Pathways may suspend (make non-active) an application for social housing or transfer for many reasons, including:
  • Pending receipt of further information or proof of social housing eligibility or housing requirements.
  • If a client is temporarily unable to accept an offer of accommodation because of:
    - being currently in prison;
    - illness, hospitalisation or holidays;
    - caring for a family member.
  • If a client has a debt from a former social housing tenancy of more than $500
  • If the client applying for a transfer has rental arrears, nuisance and annoyance breaches or any other tenancy breaches that are currently under investigation.
So, it appears that the reduction in the number of applicants on the waiting list in New South Wales over the last year may be due primarily to an ‘administrative cull’.

Other vulnerable people

No-one would disagree with the assertion that a very large number of people on the housing waiting list in New South Wales are vulnerable, given the state of the housing market.

But, let’s not forget the residents of Millers Point who were forced to re-locate.

Family and Community Services Housing kindly has provided the following information. At the beginning of the process there were 579 tenant and household members (in 399 tenancies) to be relocated. At 8 February 2018, 578 tenant and household members have either vacated or are committed to moving. One tenant is refusing to move. There are no tenancies remaining in the Sirius Building. During the course of the forced relocations, the sales of 28 properties in Millers Point were deferred. These were set aside for some of the remaining tenants and household members in November 2015. Of these, 21 are occupied by 19 tenancies.

The impact on the residents of Millers Point and the Sirius building who have been relocated has been traumatic for many. Their experiences have been documented by Professor Alan Morris in a report entitled ‘A contemporary forced urban removal: The displacement of public housing residents from Millers Point, Dawes Point and the Sirius Building by the New South Wales Government’, published by Shelter NSW here. Also, you may read Professor Morris's article called '"It was like leaving your family": Gentrification and the impacts of displacement on public housing tenants in inner-Sydney' in the Australian Journal of Social Issues here . In this article, Professor Morris places the events at Millers Point in a broader context. Watch this space for Professor Morris's forthcoming book with a similar title.

New dwellings

To meet such a massive need for social housing, it is worth asking whether there has been an increase in the number of such dwellings across New South Wales over the last three years.

We start to obtain a picture by looking at the Productivity Commission's 'Report on Government Services 2018' released in January 2018. Here we find the latest figures on the number of social housing dwellings across Australia. You can check these here . Table 18A.3 clearly shows that there was a net decrease in public housing stock in the three years to 30 June 2017 (latest published figures) by a figure of 584 dwellings.

Productivity Commission's 'Report on Government Services’ and other government data are not transparent about increases and what is affordable, as distinct from social housing.

Source: Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 'Report on government services 2018', Productivity Commission, 23/1/18, Table 18A.3. See Note (d) for correction to figure for 2011.

Over the same period, there has been net increase in community housing dwellings of 2,754 (after deducting National Rental Affordability Scheme tenancy rental dwellings).

Source: Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 'Report on government services 2018', Productivity Commission, 23/1/18, Table 18A.3. Community housing data include affordable housing. However, this table has been adjusted to omit National Rental Affordability Scheme community housing tenancy rental dwellings for 2016 and 2017, because these were omitted for previous years (see Note (d). Other affordable housing that is included is properties transferred over several years from the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Program.

A key question is how many public housing dwellings were transferred to community housing between 30 June 2014 and 30 June 2017. The Productivity Commission's report does not provide figures on the number of social housing dwellings transferred. Family and Community Services Housing advises that the number of properties transferred from public housing to community housing between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2017 was 679. This leaves us with an increase in community housing dwellings over the three year period of 2,075. Part of the increase in community housing stock in recent years comes from the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Program (NBESP). There are no published figures here.

So, there appears to be an increase in public housing of 95 dwellings, if we don’t count transfers to community housing.

Sales of Millers Point properties to 22 February 2018 number 172 (check here) and total $527.4 million (plus stamp duty of a further $28.3 million). You will find information about the public housing properties built with the proceeds of these sales here. 775 dwellings have been built up to January 2018, with another 372 under construction. To calculate the net gain from these proceeds, you will need to subtract 371 dwellings (399 less 28 retained dwellings) which represent the stock being lost in Millers Point.

Also, the number of public housing dwellings will have been reduced by properties demolished to allow for the new construction, and any dwellings removed from the stock as part of Communities Plus. These figures are unknown.

It is not unreasonable to assume that the need for social housing increases at least at the same rate as the population. (Indeed, in times of high housing stress, it should be greater) The rate of increase in social housing stock over the last three financial years is only a third of the rate of population growth in NSW.
Source: Population data from ABS at Jun 2014 and Jun 2017. Former viewed at: Latter viewed at:
The construction of new dwellings from the proceeds of sales of Millers Point properties represents small growth only. Yes, we have seen a steady, but modest stream of new supply. So, what of the future?

There is slim hope that the Sirius building can be retained as social housing. In mid-February of this year, the Tenants’ Union of NSW forwarded a submission to the NSW Planning and Environment arguing that future use of the Sirius site incorporate significant proportions of social and affordable housing, in addition to any private ownership of residential dwellings that may be permitted within the building to help give it a viable financial future. You may read our submission on their website here.

It is disappointing that sales of public housing are used to give very modest increases in stock at a time when the NSW Government ran a budget with a substantial surplus and, accordingly, had available to it substantial, alternative funds for its building program. What is also noteworthy was the lack of consultation before the decision to sell in Miller's Point.

Let’s hope that the future is brighter. On 14 August 2017, the Minister Goward announced the successful tenderer for the Ivanhoe Estate at Macquarie Park where social housing dwellings will increase by more than three-fold – from 259 social to 950 social and 128 affordable dwellings. (You can read about this in a media release here.) The NSW Government is pressing ahead with its Social and Affordable Housing Fund (SAHF) as ‘an innovative approach to the way we are delivering social and affordable housing in NSW’. You may read more about it here. On 12 September 2017, Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Minister Goward announced that the Government had now committed to a target of 3,400 new social and affordable dwellings through this fund, following 2,200 announced in March 2017. Check here. On 7 Feb 2018 the NSW Government officially opened the Expressions of Interest for the second phase of its Social and Affordable Housing Fund (SAHF), which will deliver up to 1,200 additional social and affordable homes. In this phase, at least 70% are to be social housing. Check here.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Home Truths

Jennifer StoneWe're very pleased to present this guest appearance from Jennifer Stone, a renter in the Snowy Monaro region, who has recently started a group for renters in the region to connect and discuss local renters issues. The original version of this article was published on their Facebook page.

The home of the silenced
Snowy Monaro renters welcomes you to come into our place and sit with us a while. There is something vital we need to tell you, something which concerns us all.  If you come to know who we are and our situation, you will understand.
We come from diverse backgrounds, interests, beliefs and aspirations, yet we are a family, united by common experience. Though we are significant in number, we are marginalised, distained, unheard and unknown. We have no real shelter, but pay a high price to dwell where the walls of greed’s injustice over shadow us - and block us from a home.
We know our nations’ harsher reality, our nation’s pain. We offer you home truths, and hope you will hear us. Until we are heard, our nation is in plight.

Towns prosper when we prosper and whither when we thirst
While a substantial amount of our income goes to supporting landlords and real estates, we spend much that is left in our community. In this way we provide vital support to the local economy and help it stay afloat.  Our numbers have brought extra medical centres, high schools and supermarkets to service the community.
We work in almost every sector of the region. Our children represent a significant number of the student population in the regions’ schools.  Amongst us are also pensioners and those struggling to find jobs in our community. For those on social security payments without community or state housing, average rental costs are prohibitive. 
The economy is much impacted by the increasing and excessive rents in our region. Renters face great hardship and are struggling to find money for even the most essential items. There is a shortage of permanent rental properties appropriate to our means and needs.  As rents are becoming unaffordable, Snowy Monaro renters are increasingly forced to pay for sub standard housing with inefficient heating, lacking proper insulation. High power bills cripple our financial capacity.
If we complain at our conditions or at breaches by the landlord and real estate, we face eviction in retaliation, and inter real estate black lists. Indeed there is a special provision so landlords may give termination notices for “no grounds” – this is so the tenant can not argue their eviction (even with much evidence of retaliation by landlord and real estate).
As we are forced to leave a place and go to another, we have to find bond money, we lose pay days while moving and sick days from intense rental stress. Children suffer from such destabilisation, as does the whole community. In general we are in an ever growing inescapable cycle of debt. Our plight impacts the community’s well being as a whole. We see our regions’ potential for prosperity much diminished as rents become unaffordable - yet the financially powerful minority, seem blind to this.

We suffer from divisive and prejudicial myths
It seems there is a myth amongst some landlords who own local businesses that they are the backbone of the community. They say that renters are lowly “lazy”, “dirty”, drug addicted, poor “dole bludgers” who are beneficiaries of their “hard work”. They speak of us as second class citizens, less important than themselves. Some real estates call the renter “scum” and we know for sure they treat us as such.
Derogatory myths can create a painful reality. The myth that the majority of renters are financially poor has now come to express fact. As houses have become unaffordable, rent has become unaffordable. Both renter and mortgaged landlord share the pain of immense financial pressure, often in debt and living beyond their means – an economic climate stirred by the greed and power lust of just an elite few. This pressure has lead to an economy where those who have more financial wealth, gain more each day and those who have less financial wealth, lose more each day.
The average wage hardly changes while rents go up exponentially. Renters are paying their landlords’ mortgage along with their own increasing debts. Landlords who have no mortgage are greedily extorting tenants, renting out sub standard houses at excessive market prices. Such landlords hold shelter to ransom. As landlords increase their ability to buy yet another house, renters become more likely to never have a home. The myth that renters are lazy while landlords worked hard for what they have, purveys a great falsehood. Indeed, renters work doubly hard for what their landlords have! We are the hand that feeds the landlord, are we not?

Wisdom heals the prejudice and division
Those who have become financially impoverished are not worth less. The financially rich are not worth more.  There is nothing which can diminish the worth of any being.   All people are  intrinsically valid, necessary to each other and vital in their unique contribution. No one is better than or less than another. In truth we are really one, there is no division.
Everyone creates the community and all are responsible for the conditions of that community. Prejudicial myths inevitably create the worst of conditions for all. A myth which divides people by declaring some of greater worth and others of lessor worth, by any measure, must inevitably lead to a conflict for power and recognition. This conflict develops a ravishing greed which devastates and seeks to devalue all contesting its path. This in turn gives rise to mass poverty, disenfranchisement, marginalisation, cruelty and suffering.
A harmonious and prosperous community would grow, if it was understood that we are all equal yet unique, individual yet one. If all are seen of vital worth, no one would seek to devalue another nor make a house of greater value than the people who dwell there. Divisive myths of prejudice blind the powerful minority to their own truth and the truth of their nation. 

The home truths which can heal us – please listen, please hear us
We are your kin, your sisters and brothers, parents and grandparents, children, and, generations to come. We are one. In truth, we are you. What happens to any one happens to all.  No one is at home when all about them are homeless, paying for insufficient shelter, exposed to greed, extortion, repression, and eviction at a landlord’s whim.  A house which comes by way of life long debt or subjugation of another can never be a home for anyone. The nation cannot be at peace, when so many are unsettled.  
When values of decency are worth less than values of commodity our nation is impoverished.  Happiness, not commodity, is the measure of a nation’s wealth. A nation is truly wealthy when its people enjoy a peaceful home without fear of eviction, where all may contribute to society through unique expression, welcome in the nations embrace. A nation is not wealthy if its people are homeless, enslaved and in perpetual debt. If on paper a house is worth a million dollars, it is worth nothing to those who cannot call it home - that paper value serves no one if its cost destroys life. Money on a graph is not food we can eat and property on a graph is not a place to shelter.
Houses are homes and not commodity. Economists devoid of moral compass, call out triumphant when run down cottages sell at palatial prices - while homelessness ravages the nation. Who gains when the majority have no claim to home, striving to survive, and backs bent to power thirsty property managers who lack empathy, and distain ethics? How is it that the financially powerful minority of this nation sanctify greed without question – do they not see the greater part of their nations’ family in despair.  Muted acquiescence to raging greed makes all of us complicit in the theft of happiness from generations to come.
What we do to another we do to ourselves - when did people abandon this eternal guidance? The ancient truths have never changed, we reap what we sow. Seeds of kindness bear fruits of happiness, fulfilling and empowering all. When the nurturing harvest of this wisdom is ravaged, hunger for power grows, casting seeds which bear injustice, cruelty, drought and despair. 
There are elderly pensioners eating from cans of pet food to pay the rent, suffering the pain of eviction when the landlord sells for their needed profit, did you know? This is our pain as a nation, this is our home truth.
Let’s meet again and find a better way.

 By Jennifer Stone of Snowy Monaro Renters