Wednesday 24 June 2009

Estimates Committee B (Thorp) - Part 2


CHAIR - I will pass over now to Mr Finch who wanted to explore the previous question, I believe.

Mr FINCH - Yes, I have been interrogating-

CHAIR - The data.

[4.45 p.m.]
Mr FINCH - Yes, if you look at the performance information, which is table 5.8 on page 5.22, it shows a public housing occupancy rate of close to 100 per cent for the next four years.

Ms THORP - Yes.

Mr FINCH - The waiting list is hovering around 2 700 applicants-2 733-so it is approximately around that area.  I cannot help feeling that Housing Tasmania is failing.  We have increased wait time, we have an increasing waiting list, we have a high occupancy rate and fewer housing allocations.  Is that not all an indication of failure?

Ms THORP - No, I completely disagree with you there.  We have a stock of houses.  We have about 12 000 houses in this State and 98.9 per cent of them have families living in them at a very affordable rent which is matched to their income.  We are providing that service very, very well.  Those houses are looked after.  They are maintained by Housing Tasmania.  Now, there are always going to be people who require-

Mr FINCH - 2 733.

Ms THORP - Yes, but that number of people are not homeless people.  They are not people living in tents.  A lot of these people are people who are paying, for example, high rents in the private rental market and they think that they would be better off if they were able to access public housing.

Mr FINCH - And a lot would be under the pump right now.

Ms THORP - A lot of them would be, true, and they would be mixed households.  I am aware of somebody who just spoke casually to me yesterday where a grandmother, a daughter and a young child have been living together for about three years.  The grandmother has had enough and the daughter is going to put her name down on the public housing waiting list to get a house.  If we just sat there and said, 'The only answer to affordable and social housing in this State is to get every penny we can and keep building more and more and more houses,' we are doomed.  This is recognised nationally and it is recognised internationally. 

We have to get a lot more innovative about how we provide houses, not just buying more and more stock.  This is what I call a 1960s paradigm, where back then we went out and we had all these acres and acres of land and we built hundreds of houses and the result was social problems that went with them.  We are not doing that anymore.  We have to look at housing along a continuum, from home ownership down to homelessness.  At the home ownership end we have got to do everything we can to encourage private home ownership.  That is why things like the first home buyer grant is such a good thing.  That is why we are doing things like the Home Share Equity Scheme, to help people get into their own houses.  Then we need to expand the availability of private rental stock, which is why the National Rental Affordability Scheme is so important.  Under that, a developer can apply and if they are successful they build their houses, the State pays the equivalent of $2 000 a year, the Commonwealth pays $6 000 a year and the developer agrees that for a 10-year period they will rent that place out at 80 per cent of market value and make it available to low- to moderate-income people.  So that is where that period comes in. 

We also to make sure that the stock portfolio we have reflects the needs of the people who are applying.  We still have a variety of stock that is not appropriate for the applications we get.  Our household size is getting smaller.  Where you could have perhaps six people living in a three-bedroom house 10 years ago, you have now got maybe a single mum and one child and we have still got too many three-bedroom houses.  So we have to work on that configuration as well. 

We also have a lot of stock like small bedsit units that were built back in the sixties and seventies that are not appropriate for the kind of amenity we want to provide anymore, so we have to put the time and effort into making sure they are okay.  Then we need accommodation in the supported accommodation area for people who have disabilities or other social needs that they need support for.  Plus we have to provide crisis accommodation.  Plus we have to provide facilities for homelessness.  So to just look at the housing situation and say, 'If we have waiting lists and we do not have enough houses we are failing,' I completely refute. 

Mr FINCH - I find the figures that have been revealed here very worrying, though.  We had a high in 2005 of 3 300.  We are on the way back up again.  We now have 3 007 applicants.  I am just thinking of those people who are out there who aspire, who want to share in this program, who want to have their situation alleviated wherever they are.  That is why they are coming to you for help-3 007 applicants.  They are sitting out there just waiting for that support and help.  I hope you do not lose too many staff, because it sounds as though they have got a hell of a lot of work to do in the near future. 

Ms THORP - Housing Tas do a lot of work in supporting people in public housing through tenancy support and the maintenance that goes into the properties.  People are not just put in a house and left to their own devices.  It forms a very important part, I would say, of the work that Housing Tas does, if you would like to elaborate a bit. 

Ms JAGO - No, I can only reiterate what you are saying, Minister.  The need is the need.  We are in a time when the cost of housing, the price of housing and the incomes that people have got available to them has created a great deal of housing stress and a housing shortage, and that is reflected in the waitlist.  Nevertheless, in response to that-we are never going to get rid of a waitlist; there is always going to be a need for people to have housing-the challenge is how you can find the right housing for that family or that individual at the right time depending on their need.  For a long time we had a concentration in public housing, and the minister is accurate in saying that what we are trying to do is diversify the choices of all these housing contingents so it is not reliance just on public housing. 

In fact, you have heard about the large dollars that are coming our way-$130 million from the Commonwealth.  That is all tied to a massive reform agenda.  Part of that reform agenda is to diversify the choices that are available for low-income people.  One of the strategies there is to grow the not-for-profit sector that is able to leverage additional dollars from debt off their asset base.  So there is a whole range of strategies in place at the moment to try to diversify supply, increase supply, get more providers and a range of choices to meet a range of needs. 

Mr FINCH - Because of those national programs that we have got, the remote indigenous housing and the homelessness national partnership agreements, those sorts of things, I am not trusting; I am just hoping that the government is playing its part as strongly as it should be. 

Ms THORP - Yes, and our plan is to have 2 000 new housing stock over the next four to five years.  That will go a long way to alleviating those problems.  We would not fix the problem if we just concentrated on building more public housing stock.  We have to be much more creative than that, I think it is fair to say. 

CHAIR - Minister, is TAHL on track to deliver its additional 300 affordable homes by the end of 2009-10?

Ms THORP - TAHL now has a total of 71 homes occupied and it has another 432 homes in the pipeline.  TAHL has experienced some time lags. 

CHAIR - I think we have heard that for the last three years, since I have been sitting here. 

Ms THORP - Yes.  We still have issues, but the people on the board are committed and they are working very, very hard-

CHAIR - I appreciate that, but I guess you would appreciate that we are the ones listening to these people because we usually give them the Housing Tasmania number.  We are the ones who see them first of all at our offices and around-

Ms THORP - But you are clear that I actually have no control over TAHL. 

CHAIR - I understand that, but obviously it is born out of the need. 

Ms THORP - We want to see them succeed, and they have the potential to deliver about 700 new affordable homes.  It may not be as quickly as we initially thought it would perhaps be but, as I said, they have 71 occupied and another 432 homes in the pipeline.  I think 131 of them are due for completion in 2009-10.  It is a bit of a slow start, but they have built some momentum. 

CHAIR - So they will not have 300.  The report Your Health and Human Services: Progress Chart of May 2009 says that an additional 300 affordable homes are planned by the end of 2009-10.

Ms THORP - There are 432 in the pipeline, 71 occupied and another 131 due for completion in 2009-10.  They are my most up-to-date figures. 

CHAIR - It is probably not as accurate. 

Ms THORP - Sometimes things happen, too, such as when a work plan or business plan is developed that relies on being able to access a particular site and get a development application approved and then that falls over.  Hopkins Street was a classic example of a site that TAHL were going to use but for a variety of reasons were unable to, so we have now basically taken that back and are doing something alternative on it.  Remind me of what we are doing on Hopkins Street?

Mr WHITE - We are looking to develop that under the stimulus package. 

Ms THORP - That is right.  It is a fantastic site.  It is right next to the Moonah 24/7 medical centre and in a quiet, internal block near services.  It will be absolutely ideal for older people and young mums with children, because it will all be flat plan access and all that kind of thing and close to services. 

CHAIR - The way we are going, though, they will be out of their prams by the time it gets a house on the ground. 

Ms THORP - No, we are building Hopkins Street. 

CHAIR - Are you then telling me that Housing Tasmania can put houses on the ground a lot quicker than TAHL?

Ms THORP - They have different arrangements.  They are about head leasing properties and renting them.  We can provide housing in a variety of ways which their terms of agreement do not cover. 

CHAIR - So they are not hitting the mark?

Ms THORP - I think that is something we will need to look at into the future because, as I said, they have a constitution which they work under and this was all devised well before we knew all the stimulus money was going to be available.  When we get closer to looking at our reform process of public housing, rejigging the way TAHL works may be a part of that, but I would not want to pre-empt that until we know where we are going with the housing. 

CHAIR - And putting TAHL back into Housing Tasmania. 

Ms THORP - I do not know, because we are looking at a major reform of public housing.  As you know, KPMG have been involved for some time with the modeling and coming up with the report, which we hope will be around in early July.  Since the draft report came out in December last year, the stakeholders-like Shelter Tasmania, Anglicare, Colony 47 and others-have formed a working group that has been chaired by Alison to go through all the issues that were raised when they had a look at the draft, such as risk management, rent setting, grandfathering of existing tenants and a whole lot of issues they were concerned about.  Everyone sat down around the table and worked those through one by one. 

They have been able to inform KPMG's work so that when we get the FaCS report it should hopefully have ticked off on all of the concerns that the stakeholder groups, the not-for-profits here in Tasmania, had.  The feedback I am getting is that they are very happy, particularly with the dignity given to them, if you like, about them being real participants in the process.