There’s no doubt that social and affordable housing in NSW is in need of life support.
Thankfully, the NSW government put out a media release last week to say the entire system will be rebuilt. But how? NSW Labor minister, Rose Jackson, is in charge of such things, and said a new government agency has been formed, called Homes NSW.
She says, ‘Homes NSW will bring together the housing and homelessness services of the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ), with NSW Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC), the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office (AHO) and key worker housing, all under one roof – making the system more efficient and accessible’.
She also claims Homes NSW will ‘drive collaboration’ between the NSW government and other stakeholders.
‘Collaboration’ was also promised with her government’s recent affordable housing reforms (under the State Environmental Planning Policy), yet it was clear from the peak body representing NSW councils (LGNSW) that their input was mostly ignored. It was a developer win!
As for social housing, The Echo asked the Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure what exists, or is in the pipeline, for Byron Shire?
They replied in part, ‘There are 247 social housing properties in the Byron LGA. In the surrounding LGAs, a further 240 social housing homes (119 Tweed, 61 Richmond Valley, 29 Ballina and 22 in Lismore) have been committed to as part of the Flood Recovery Program’.
Given affordable and social housing are tied to developer profits, it’s public housing that is perhaps the most important investment that governments can make (apart from taxing the fossil fuel industries, like Norway does).
As public housing is government-run, there is less pressure to return profits. It could also close the wealth gap that is currently emerging. Yet government investment in public housing has been in decline over generations.
With the lack of public, social and affordable housing in the Shire, this week, councillors will vote on whether to proceed with a Byron Shire Council-led land trust.
As reported on page 4, Council’s planning supremo, Shannon Burt, says her staff are ready to tackle it.
It’s actually courageous, because Council are not known for being entrepreneurial.
A land trust could, for example, apply to the former Mullum Hospital land that is now up for rezoning. It wasn’t mentioned by Mayor Michael Lyon as an option in his reply to questions about the Mullum hospital site, nor was public housing.
And it’s worth asking the questions, because under his leadership, Council does not provide much information around its grand visions.
It must be hard to articulate any-thing when making it up as you go.
Additionally, Council’s track record of flogging off public assets isn’t great.
Back in 2013, Council made the case that their finances were in trouble and needed to sell off low-hanging fruit. Despite a hard-fought community campaign for it to be retained as a public asset, a valuable piece of real estate at the top of Ocean Shores, called the Roundhouse, was sold by Council well under market value.
Let’s hope the former Mullum Hospital site doesn’t suffer the same fate.