The Public Housing Jobs Plan That Could Leave Some In The Dark

A program aimed at incentivising people in or applying for public housing to get a job could leave those who desperately rely on the system in the dark. 

NSW Social Services Minister Pru Goward announced The Opportunity Pathways program on Friday that aims to "help break the cycle of disadvantage" of those living in state-funded public housing through education and employment.

Under a short-term trial 20 properties in Punchbowl and Towradgi, near Wollongong, will be leased to applicants who will be bumped up the queue.

Currently, there are almost 60,000 people on the waiting list in NSW. In inner-city areas, they face a wait of five to ten years. 

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Social Services Minister Pru Goward. Image:AAP

CEO of Shelter NSW Karen Walsh is concerned at the idea of linking engagement with the program to earlier housing access.

"We know that many people on the waiting list are ageing, or have long-term enduring complexities with disability, meaning they can't get a job nor do they fall under the group that is being targeted," she told 10 daily.

"How does this help them?"

While Walsh supports opportunities that will break the cycle of disadvantage, she said policies must consider impacts on those who are vulnerable and not end up with adverse outcomes.

Recent figures from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute reveal the country will need to triple its social housing over the next 20 years.

That equates to 727,000 new properties to fill the current shortage and meet growing demand from low-income earners.

A third of that will be needed in NSW, followed by Queensland and Victoria.

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"We are dealing with an under supply and high demand for social housing dwellings while the private rental market is becoming more and more competitive," said Walsh.

"But this is an even broader public policy challenge --  it’s also about employment opportunities, access to transport and housing that is affordable and close to jobs." 

"To look at this issue in a silo is quite concerning."

The trial is part of the $42.6 million program that will connect 3000 public tenants with jobs or study.

Participants will be supported for up to three years.

After six months, they will be assessed and assisted out of public housing if they're no longer engaging in work.

In that time, participants who maintain their job will be moved into community housing or the private rental market.

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"We want to set to a clear expectation that social housing is not for life and, for those who can work, social housing should be used as a stepping stone to moving into the private rental market," said Goward.

Walsh said this was concerning, and left no safety net.

"If we can get people into stable housing and they can get a job that is permanent, well paid and delivers everything they need, that's great," she said.

"But the reality is it isn't easy for people to just move out of social housing into private rental and have security of tenure. Even if the get a property, their hours could be decreed or they could end up homeless."

Shelter NSW has seen an increase in housing stress turning in to homelessness, with people unable to pay rent.

"If people do get into trouble or fall onto hard times in the future, where is the safety net for them?

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au.