BALLINA MP: Greens Tamara Smith.
BALLINA MP: Greens Tamara Smith. Suze McLeod

OPINION: Social housing is a social good

THE government has just changed the law for people living in social housing and it looks reasonable - on the face of it.

The new legislation - The Residential Tenancies Amendment (Social Housing) Bill 2018 - will implement a bond scheme for tenants that includes termination of tenancy for non-payment and allows termination when the tenant commits certain crimes.

The goal is to send a clear message that tenants have a responsibility to look after their properties and be honest when claiming a benefit from the government, which seems fair enough.

But think about it: the bill creates a new barrier for those who are already struggling because of financial stress, health and mental health issues, intergenerational trauma, addiction, disability or domestic violence. We are dealing with people in the most vulnerable circumstances and this scheme is just another stick to beat them with.

Such people don't have a voice and we need to stand up for them. Shelter NSW's concerns were not being taken on board framing this law.

We know that backlogs are real and the demand is high. In my electorate, 115 applicants are waiting for social housing from Housing NSW, with 17 on the priority waiting list in the Byron Bay zone alone and many more in Ballina. The expected waiting time for a family is five to 10 years.

Just last week other laws were passed, effectively giving open-slather to house owners to let their property on a short-term holiday let basis all year round. That can only lead to fewer long-term rental accommodation options in destination electorates such as Byron Shire and worsen the accommodation crisis in the region.

The Greens believe every person has the right to access affordable, safe, secure, healthy, community- oriented housing and that social and affordable housing is essential in providing the stability that underpins engagement in work, education and community life.

Preventing homelessness requires action to provide appropriate support services for the most vulnerable in society. The actions of the Lib-Nats government are all headed in the opposite direction.

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