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Emergency Accommodation Requirements

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Tags: Housing Crisis

That the House -

  1. Notes that from early September 2018 people living at the Hobart Showgrounds will be asked to move on as a result of preparations for the Royal Hobart Show.
  2. Calls on the Minister for Housing, Hon. Roger Jaensch MP, to detail what measures he has put in place to ensure emergency accommodation is made available to people leaving the showgrounds.
  3. Further calls on the Minister for Housing to reaffirm his promise to deliver on the resolution of this House on 13 June 2018 to 'commit to the delivery of 900 homes by the end of June 2019, with over half of that supply to be delivered in the Greater Hobart region.'


Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank Ms Standen for bringing this matter on for debate in private members' time today. It was an excellent presentation. Do not worry, when you get under the minister's skin to the extent that he is belittling you, you are going very well.

It is true that since Estimates, given that we have had a prolonged winter break, the Minister for Housing has not had to respond in any public sense to an unresolved housing crisis. Minister, you can belittle Ms Standen for the information she has laid out but we all know there are still people and families sleeping in tents at the showgrounds. We need to hear from you what the plan is in order to not only provide them with emergency accommodation when they need to be moved off the showgrounds because the show is coming, but also what steps are being put in place to provide secure, long-term affordable housing.

When you go back and have a look through the statements that have been made by this new minister in relation to the housing crisis, there are a series of questions that need to be answered. What happened to the process of seeking tenders for prefabricated housing solutions, for example? An announcement was made on 19 May this year, so could the minister update the House on whether or not that has been a successful tender process? How many homes will be delivered through this process and what is the governance for making sure that these are quality homes that will provide secure housing for people? What happened to the Landlord Incentive Scheme, one of the most half-baked, kneejerk responses to an underinvestment in increasing the supply of social and affordable housing we are ever likely to see, where the minister said that they would go to landlords and offer them $13 000 in order to make their home, which might otherwise been on the short-stay accommodation market, available for rental for a year?

There has been bad policy and kneejerk responses to a crisis in housing, with the highest public housing waiting list in more than a decade now. According to the last census, housing went up 21 per cent between 2011 and 2016. Anyone who is across policy in this area will understand there is a range of reasons that there is so much pressure in the housing rental market and the housing supply market more broadly, but at the foundation of it is a failure to invest.

Mr Jaensch can deride the efforts of the previous government and in fact a Greens housing minister to deliver 2217 new homes, but the fact is that we made it a priority. We made sure that the funds available through the Nation Building Economic Stimulus money, which your federal colleagues voted against, through the National Rental Affordability Scheme, which your federal colleagues killed off, and through the state housing fund were allocated towards increasing the supply of social and affordable, secure, energy-efficient housing. The foundation of the crisis that Tasmanians in housing distress are experiencing now is four years of neglect of the Housing portfolio at the federal and state level.
You cannot get past the fact, Mr Jaensch, that your federal colleagues walked away from every decent government's responsibility to invest in building homes for Australians, because that is what happened. We had an ex-prime minister, Tony Abbott, who in his 2014 budget delivered one of the most destructive, harsh, unempathetic, divisive budgets in the country's history, and a federal treasurer, Joe Hockey, who described the sort of people we are talking about who are in housing distress today as 'leaners'.

The foundational causes of the housing crisis was a shift in policy from the federal government, cuts to Housing Tasmania in 2014, a failure to top up the housing fund, a minister who completely took her eye off the ball and a government that is more interested in advertising to Sydneysiders to live here than it is in investing secure affordable housing. We have a government that let short-stay accommodation go feral before taking any half-baked steps to regulate the short-stay accommodation market.

You have a hide, Mr Jaensch, coming in here and belittling the relentless efforts of the previous government to increase the supply of good homes for Tasmanians that they can afford to live in, that they are not being evicted from because the owners of those properties want to convert them to short-stay accommodation. The owners of these properties are ramping up the rents to the extent that they become so unaffordable a family has to move out with the threat hanging over the heads of tenants that 'If you do not pay this ramped up rent we will convert to an Airbnb anyway'. That is happening. We have tenants living in poor quality, poorly maintained private rental accommodation now with sky high rents who are too afraid to get in touch with their landlord to say, 'You need to fix the hot water cylinder', or 'There is a hole in the roof which has been there for six months. My children are cold', or 'It is mouldy'. Tenants are too afraid to talk to their landlords because they are terrified of being evicted into homelessness.

It is happening right now in Tasmania. The minister might take this opportunity to tell us how many families and individuals have been housed through the Landlord Incentive Scheme. How many of those tenancies, those leases, are for more than 12 months? What is happening to those families, any of them if any have indeed been housed? When we asked these questions at Estimates none had. What happens to those families at the end of the 12 months that your half-baked scheme cooked up? How many of these pre-fabricated homes will be delivered by your self-imposed target on 1 July next year?

I have here some questions for the minister that have been formulated by people who are either homeless or experiencing housing distress. This is a good opportunity to ask some of those questions. Here is Gypsy. Some people will remember Gypsy from the lawns.

Remind the minister when he visited the showgrounds he said people would get supported. Having someone in a service to be in contact with is not support. We want vans and we want them before the first snow on the hill. That was two weeks ago. Vans instead of tents. We have a suggestion here- accommodation for singles built in the city as part of Housing Tasmania and as a step towards housing the 3000 on the list.

For the purposes of Hansard's accurate record, the list is now nudging 3500 last time I looked.

For those who are single, no need for a car or longer public transport trips for older women. We need clever design in Housing Tasmania homes that maximise heating, insulation options to lower heating costs and incorporate good design for green spaces such as play areas and gardens that may be shared also.

This is a comment that is made by Katherine. I point out again that when we were building homes for Tasmanians who need housing we made sure that they had the highest standard of energy efficiency; that they were thermally efficient. We also delivered a nation-leading energy efficiency program which was scrapped when the Liberals came to office in 2014. It delivered 9500 free energy efficiency upgrades to low income households, community groups and small businesses, lowering annual power bills by between $300 and $800 a year. That is good policy. No-one has a mandate on good policy although I would argue the Greens have the strongest policy set.

Mr O'Byrne - Come on, come on.

Ms O'CONNOR - It took you guys a little while to come round on climate change. You have not come all the way on fish farms. You still think the public commons, the marine environment, should prioritise the needs of industry over every day Tasmanians and people who live in coastal communities.

Katherine also said:

We need to push to have the housing debt struck. It gives us all of our funding then in each budget rather than handing back half of it to the federal coffers to only pay interest on our debt. This is dead money, it needs to be fixed. It is simple.

Nat suggests bond money for single working parents. Lisa wants the minister to consider putting some kind of cap of what is considered reasonable rent and having a set percentage increase allowed per annum. This is Greens' policy. It is policy that is in place in the ACT where increases in rents are restricted to CPI, other than in exceptional circumstances that can be argued via the landlord. We have gouging happening right now in the rental market in greater Hobart and across Tasmania because we know that the housing crisis is reaching into rural and regional areas and into places like St Helens and Launceston and the north-west coast.

Danny says:

My two picks are based on my own experiences: regulation of the short term letting market and a cap on rental increases. If I felt like pushing my luck, stronger rights for renters such as being able to expect some kind of heating or insulation in a home.

This goes to the issue of minimum standards in the Residential Tenancy Act, a suite of reforms that the previous government sought to have delivered through the act under a Greens minister for consumer protection. As it is right now there is no minimum standard, for example, that says if you are letting out a house to tenants that there needs to be reasonable heating.

Sarah says:

There needs to be a government loans scheme for low income or Centrelink recipients to build new homes, either on their own land or as a land package as a longer term method of avoiding more homelessness in the future among many of those now currently renting. Also, free up private rentals. The Streets Ahead program gives priority to the lucky current clients of Housing Tasmania, accepting their bids over higher bids made by non-clients such as those in private rentals, the homeless or those on the waiting list.

Mel says:

If a Department of Housing property does not sell to the target groups within the time frame, then maintenance is to be done and it is to be returned back to the public rental system.

Linda wants:

Stronger tenancy laws to allow tenants long-term leases, more than 12 months, control on rent increases and a code of conduct for agents and landlords to be compliant with before taking on the role of agent or landlord to ensure they behave consistently and also bonds to be transferrable for tenants to help with securing new homes.

As it stands the Residential Tenancy Act provides inadequate protections for tenants. I note that in the not too distant future this House will debate amendments to the Residential Tenancy Act. I received a briefing in relation that legislation today. It is fair to say that this amendment bill which is before the House has some specific purposes that relate to specialist disability accommodation provided under the National Disability Insurance Scheme and also to the lease arrangements for victims of domestic and family violence who find themselves before a judge. There is a suite of reforms that needs to be made to the Residential Tenancy Act in order to reset the balance in favour of tenants. At the moment, the act heavily favours landlords and real estate managers.

If you talk to people who apply for a rental, they will tell you that the questions that are now being asked of tenants are downright intrusive and I would argue there is no lawful basis for this. The information that is being gathered on tenants is unjustified and intrusive.

There is a very casual 'how is your father' approach to lease arrangements, inspection arrangements for tenants in Tasmania. There are different forms that different agencies use for applications, asking questions that are none of the business of either the real estate management company or of the landlord themselves.

I understand that further amendments to the Residential Tenancy Act are being consulted on by the Government and we are likely to see another amendment bill come through the House next year. We will take that opportunity to introduce amendments that better protect the rights of tenants in line with a series of recommendations made by the Tenants Union of Tasmania. We want to make the leases and the rents fair.

We want to implement indefinite lease options for tenants and most certainly we want to make sure that people who have pets are not discriminated against in the rental market. My understanding is that pet owners often make better tenants. They certainly are happier tenants. I am sure other members of this House have had conversations with people who are sleeping rough, living on the streets, who have their dog with them. Part of the reason they are on the streets is because they love their dog and they cannot get a rental property because they are a pet owner. Such is their love for that animal they made that difficult choice to hang onto their dog rather than give their dog up in order to secure housing. It should not have to be a choice that people make.

I am flagging with the House that when the next set of amendments to the Residential Tenancy Act come through we will have a suite of amendments which we will consult on. We will be prioritising stakeholder communications with organisations that are there for tenants and therefore people who are experiencing homelessness or housing distress.

The whole House should support this Notice of Motion. There is nothing controversial in it. The Minister for Housing must detail what measures he has put in place to ensure emergency accommodation is made available to people leaving the showgrounds. He must acknowledge that from early next month, only a few days away, people who are currently living in insecure accommodation - tents, vans, a small shed - at the showgrounds will be moved on.

The minister needs to give the House an up-date on the promise to deliver from the 13 June Notice of Motion, 900 homes by the end of June 2018, with over half of that supply to be delivered in the greater Hobart region. That is a critical question that the minister needs to answer. It was interesting to hear Ms Standen, who I know has a good maths brain, unlike some people in this House, including me, try to get to bottom of the actual delivery on supply.

When you go to the Estimates for Mr Jaensch from this year, we first of all have the question from Ms White: of the 430 new social housing dwellings you committed to deliver by 2018-19 you have progressed just 37 of them and that was for the quarter, January to March 2018, which is just 8.6 per cent over the three-year period. That was when the target was 430 social housing dwellings by the end of this financial year.

Mr Deputy Speaker, there are legitimate questions to be asked about the Government's commitment to delivering; its capacity to deliver and what, in fact, it is delivering. If this becomes a free for all for private developers, it will not deliver the desired and necessary outcome for people who are looking for housing. If the rezoning provisions for declaring land to be emergency supply land - and this is public land we are talking about here too - if that just becomes a private developer's free for all, it will not deliver long term, secure and affordable housing.

Mr Jaensch interjecting.

Ms O'CONNOR - Were you chirping away over there, minister?

Mr Jaensch - Yes, and I will keep chirping too. You are trying to walk two sides of the street.

Ms O'CONNOR - Pardon me, minister, if I do not get in here and ra ra your government for having delivered only 37 houses to Estimates this year. Just pardon me, because you had the gall to sneer at Ms Standen when she gave you the numbers for the supply that was delivered in the last term.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order, through the Chair, Ms O'Connor. Minister, you will have your opportunity to make your contribution.

Ms O'CONNOR - So perhaps the minister could just lay out what has happened with some of these initiatives and the actual numbers. Before the minister made a strange sound - I am not sure if it was an interjection or a harrumph - I talked about the public housing waiting list being at its highest level in more than a decade and that it was sitting at around 3500. If the minister could provide the exact number of suffering Tasmanian individuals and families who are languishing on that list, that would be helpful for the understanding of the House too.

It would be terrific if the minister had the weight in Cabinet and the courage in parliament to walk the Liberals away from this insane plan to market Tasmania as a place to live for people who are in Sydney right now, when we have people sleeping at the showground. Talk about contradictory, mutually exclusive policy approaches. Why on earth would any responsible government, knowing it has people sleeping at the showground in tents, spend public money and public resources advertising Tasmania to Sydneysiders as a place to live? Is it because this Government would rather have wealthy Sydneysiders come and live on this beautiful island than provide homes for everyday Tasmanians?

It is important to remember that demographic or the housing and homelessness crisis has shifted under this Government. This was the profile of the public housing waiting list before. It has gone from people at the pointiest end of socio demographic disadvantage and poverty to now include middle income families. There has been a profound and confronting shift in people who are experiencing housing distress in Tasmania right now, and that has happened on the Liberal's watch. You cannot come in here anymore as a government and say, 'Oh, it is all Labor-Greens experiment fault', because we actually delivered a significant increase in the supply of social and affordable housing in the four years we were in government, and there was a Greens housing minister.

Minister, when you inevitably get up and have a crack about assertions that have been made or data that has been set out that you disagree with or believe is not true, I remind you - and I think this happened to Ms Standen as well - that we repeatedly sought briefings on the Affordable Housing Strategy, measures that were being taken, targets that had been set and how progress was going, and we did that because we are intimately concerned with this issue and committed to being part of, if it is possible, a tripartite response to the housing crisis in Tasmania.

We sought a briefing from Housing Tasmania on these issues. The first briefing request was on 10 May. It was earlier than that but this correspondence I have goes back to 10 May, seeking a briefing on the Government's responses to the housing crisis. Finally, in the middle of July, two full months later, the minister's office said, 'You won't be having a briefing.' The only conclusion to draw from that is the minister's office did not want to arm opposition parties with the facts because the facts were damning.

Ms Standen, thank you for bringing this debate on. It is a very important debate and we will be supporting the motion. I warn the minister, please do not get up and try to amend this motion into oblivion.

Mr Hidding - Don't you dare.

Ms O'CONNOR - Why would you?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order. I ask that Ms O'Connor be heard without interjection.

Ms O'CONNOR - Kick him out, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Hidding - Don't you dare.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order. I do not need advice, thank you.

Ms O'CONNOR - Not on these things. You probably do need a bit on other things.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - I take that as a reflection on the Chair so I will caution you. If I am going to be kicking anyone out, it will you, Ms O'Connor. I suggest you get on with your contribution.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thanks, Mr Deputy Speaker. I say that, Mr Hidding, not because I am making any threats but because this is a motion which should be supported by the House, including the minister and we will certainly be supporting it.