Brett Wortman

Fix needed for 'broken' Northern Rivers public housing

THE NORTHERN Rivers needs more than 2400 new homes every year to keep up with demand and fix its "broken" public housing system.

The State Government has released a discussion paper calling for ideas on how to mend the dysfunctional community housing sector.

Across NSW there are fewer homes available, more families on waiting lists and no real plan yet to fix the situation.

Community Services Minister Gabrielle Upton wants to dismiss the idea of public housing as "a life-long destination" except for society's most vulnerable, and to encourage people to see it as a "stepping stone" to independence.

North Coast Community Housing chief John McKenna visited Ms Upton in Sydney on Tuesday and was optimistic about her commitment.

"There has been no housing policy in NSW for a number of years, and NSW doesn't have a Housing Minister," he said.

"But Ms Upton really seems committed to change.

"As a sector, we have struggled with previous governments to get involved in talks about the wider housing issue.

"It has taken Ms Upton six months to get across the housing part of her portfolio, but she seems genuine.

"She realises the system is broken and needs to be fixed."

The NCCH has about 900 community housing properties under its wing across the Northern Rivers, with offices in Tweed, Lismore and Grafton.

Mr McKenna said there were about 4000 social housing properties in the region, not including dedicated Aboriginal housing services.

Demand for housing in the Northern Rivers is as high as ever - a fact Mr McKenna said must be addressed if the reliance on social housing was to reduce.

"In the 1950s and 1960s, 85% of public housing tenants were working," he said.

"That has flipped completely the other way - 94% of tenants in social housing are on some sort of benefit like the aged pension, unemployment or disability support.

"The whole system has turned around because of a lack of housing."

Ms Upton agreed with the sentiment.

"The social housing system is under pressure and needs to change to better serve vulnerable people in NSW," she said.

"The system was designed at a different time and for a different purpose.

"Despite improvements over the last three years, the current system is neither sustainable nor fair."

The social housing waiting list was five to 10 years long in Lismore in 2012, with similar figures across the Northern Rivers region.

The Northern Rivers needs 2473 new homes to be built every year to keep up with a population expected to grow 34% to 372,700 by 2036.

Mr McKenna said increasing general housing availability and bringing down prices was essential to stop the reliance on government-funded accommodation.

"Leading up to the March election, all local candidates need to be asked what they will do to deal with the supply and affordability issues of housing in their electorate," he said.

"Sadly, it hasn't been a topic of conversation."

The discussion paper will be open for comments until February 20 with a government response due in July.

Every public housing resident in NSW will be sent a letter to call for their ideas. 



Far North Coast - 59,790

Clarence Valley - 2047

Total new dwellings required - 61,873

Total dwellings required each year - 2473



Only 39% of Aboriginal people own homes, compared to 66% of the rest of the population

19% of indigenous people are in public housing, compared to 5% generally

144,990 social housing dwellings state-wide, excluding Aboriginal community housing organisations (data yet to be compiled)

69.7% of public housing tenants have special needs

28,190 homeless people in NSW on Census night in 2011 - a 22% increase on 2006

More than one-quarter of homeless Australians reside in NSW

About one-third of state's homeless are in inner-regional centres like Grafton, Lismore, Tweed and Coffs Harbour

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