Jun 21, 2012

Should public housing tenants be forced to move?

According to a repo

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

Animation of changes in sectoral composition of the Australian economy, by Qtr from 1974 to 2012

According to a report in The Australian last week, the Queensland Housing Minister, Dr Bruce Flegg, is proposing to forcibly move public housing tenants with empty bedrooms into smaller dwellings.

Dr Flegg said a Government audit found there are 8,700 public housing units in the State with two or more unoccupied bedrooms.

Under-occupancy is the biggest single one of the many challenges we are facing with public housing. The finances are unsustainable. Rents are declining dramatically because of under-occupancy … so if you have got one person in a three-bedroom house, they can be paying $90 a week for a house that will rent in the market for $400 a week

There are 30,000 households on the public housing waiting list in Queensland. Dr Flegg says a third of them are “technically homeless … so they are staying with friends and relatives, couch surfing, moving from house to house as good people take them.”

This week the Courier Mail reported he may have upped the ante – he wants to force empty-nesters to either move to smaller properties, pay a higher rent, or share their dwelling with strangers on the waiting list.

Under-occupancy is not just a public housing problem. As I’ve discussed before, it’s also a major issue in the much bigger private housing sector.

This research shows more than 84% of older Australians live in homes that are under-occupied (one or more spare bedrooms) when measured against the Canadian National Occupancy Standard. Almost half have two or more spare bedrooms.

However getting a more efficient match between household size and dwelling size isn’t a straightforward matter. Many older households don’t want to move out of a dwelling they might’ve occupied for many years.

One study found more than 90% of them want to stay put. They value their proximity to friends and family and they value familiarity with their home and neighbourhood.

Empty-nesters also utilise space more fully than is often appreciated. More than 90% regard the size of their home as efficient and suitable to their needs.

People comment that following retirement they spend most of their time at home and they need space “to get away from each other and not to always be underfoot”, to follow hobbies and sometimes part-time paid work…… People state they need room for temporary residents – for frequent visits from children and grandchildren, other relatives and friends.

related study of older private home owners found 23% had one or more temporary residents at the time of the survey. While almost a fifth of these were grandchildren, more than half were adult children and visitors.

In the case of Queensland public housing, the Courier Mail cited a couple, Phyllis and Michael Martin, 78 and 69 years old, who are “shocked and angry” they might be forced from their home of 35 years or have to share it with strangers. Mrs Martin is quoted as saying:

We just couldn’t believe it, we both suffer from medical conditions and we raised our family here, we can’t have strangers in the house and we certainly will not move, it’s all very upsetting. We only have a small three bedroom house. We use two of the bedrooms already, my husband has Crohnes Disease and uses a colostomy bag and I have a heart condition.

Under-occupancy in public housing is also an issue in other states. The Australian says there might be as many as 40,000 under-occupied public housing dwellings across Australia. Contacts the newspaper made with other states suggest the issue is not confined to Queensland.

There’s a good case for a more efficient matching of dwellings with household size, given there are as many as 10,000 technically homeless households on the waiting list. However forcing current tenants to share with others they don’t know is unacceptable.

I’m not sure if Dr Flegg is really contemplating that option or if it’s a beat-up by the Courier Mail. Either way it’s unconscionable and he should formally and firmly reject it publicly.

Addressing the existing mis-match demands a high degree of sensitivity. Many tenants will have lived in their current houses and neighbourhoods for long periods. Some might be ill or have compelling reasons for staying put.

A better approach would be to facilitate voluntary transfers as South Australia reportedly does. Dr Flegg should consider offering a financial incentive to encourage households to move of their own accord to smaller dwellings. But first he needs to have a housing supply strategy in place so there’s appropriately-sized alternative accommodation available in locations that will attract the empty-nesters.

Perhaps there’s also scope to offer households a financial incentive to share their dwellings with others, but it sounds very fraught to me. Which of the two parties leases the dwelling? Who has priority if there’s a dispute? The potential for disagreement between the parties is high and likely to result in high management costs for the housing authority. This particular idea is best forgotten.


(Visited 39 times, 3 visits today)


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

14 thoughts on “Should public housing tenants be forced to move?

  1. Pat

    It’s always the same! Politicians Rort the system and poor joe blogs is worried about being kicked out of the very basic government house where they’ve raised children and can’t afford to rent privately especially if divorced or widowed, I live in a tiny gov house which is very basic and have been here 20 years, I’ve spent lots of money improving their property and keeping it nice and clean while my neighbors trash their house and housing just keep coming back to fix things ( how they don’t get kicked out is beyond me) why the hell are we taking in immigrants at expense of our own ppl when there’s no housing yet manus island reffos are in for 73million dollar compensation ( could build a lot of houses with that money) governments waste so much money that could go to better use but they don’t .The rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the gap between gets wider!

  2. Leo Braun

    Sadly, intervention sought at the local electorate office (MP responsible for the Public Housing) resulted in the ongoing stonewalling. So much for the representative democracy system — ultimately to be told that no appointment could be made this year. Sought to confront the illusive Member for Brisbane Central. Lacking adherence to the elementary “code of conduct”. That actually doesn’t exist, neither the criteria for constituents to meet their MP. What makes one to realise how vulnerable duped citizens are.

    To jog the memory 25-08-08 dated ruling by the Dept of Housing stated: “You are not eligible for long term social housing”, “based on the information you have provided, you’ve been assessed as being adequately and appropriately housed at … this time and not experiencing housing affordability issue”! Thus I was dumped from the queue, just because I interim lodged at … while awaiting for the public housing placement since 27-09-02.

    Now four years later, Newman Government Policy Advisor within the Office of the Minister for Housing (who fell on his sword) informed me on 14-11-12: “Thank you for your letter of 23 Oct 2012 to the Honourable Dr Bruce Flegg MP regarding your current housing situation. The Minister has asked me to respond on his behalf. I understand that the unit you are requesting to reside in has one-bedroom and is designated to be occupied by either a single person or a couple occupying the same bedroom. As a responsible landlord, Department of Housing cannot encourage overcrowding”!

  3. Leo Braun

    The concept of ‘home’ is of growing importance in the law!

    Certainly, home is a lot more than shelter. Home is a place of security, belonging and comfort, Justice Bell said. Forced eviction of vulnerable people raises profoundly important social, ethical and legal issues. Such people are very vulnerable and their human rights are imperilled by their circumstances.

    In a nutshell, Justice Bell believes that current state and territory laws do not adequately protect the security of tenure for public housing tenants, who can be evicted without reason or cause. During 18 Sept 2012 lecture at Monash University Faculty of Law, Justice Kevin Bell of the Victorian Supreme Court focused profoundly on the lack of protection of people living in public housing from forced eviction under Australian law.

    Accolades to the principled Justice Bell, who certainly warmed forsaken battler’s heart. Only to realise subsequently that nothing tangible resulted in the nitty gritty to resolve the “overcrowding” claim by the Dept of Housing. Frivolously made to preclude my lodging at the unit, frequented by me over the years. Hence prompt intervention sought by me at the local electorate office, only to be told that no appointment could be made this year.

    Although earlier in the year Campbell Newman chosen pollies outperformed each other to pound on a chest within the tactically choreographed gestures of assurance that people’s interest was in their heart. Yet in reality my elementary human right was violated, trampled and obliterated by the treacherous evildoers. Unaccountable for their actions, due to the absence Charter of Rights & Obligations!

  4. Leo Braun

    Public Housing Fiasco Casualty Urgent Appeal

    To the attention Housing Minister Dr Flegg, in recollection Dec 2005 issue of the Tenant News hoisted: “One social housing system”! As the “introduced new system has been developed to make it easier for the people seeking help and ensure the assistance offered to them will best meet their circumstances”, insisted Director General Natalie McDonald.

    When in fact jellyback treacherous pollies forfeited public housing entitlement for low income recipients. Such as myself, interim lodged in a unit leased by the principal tenant from Department of Housing, while I awaited for the public housing placement since 27-09-02.

    Only to receive suddenly: “You are not eligible for long term social housing”, “based on the information you have provided, you’ve been assessed as being adequately and appropriately housed at … this time and not experiencing housing affordability issue”, avowed 25-08-08 dated ruling by the Dept of Housing.

    But as one to think that nothing worse could possibly happen, Rent Review Officer Rebecca of Brisbane Central Area Office (3872 0332) informed on 15-10-12 the principal tenant that the Dept of Housing will not consent to my return on Oct 22, 2012, after three month absence.

    Due to the “overcrowding” at the unit, where a principal tenant occupied a bedroom, while a sofa-bed suited me at the (3.7m x 3.8m) spacious lunchroom. Built in 1998, unlike the claustrophobic housing churned these days (streamlined with a bed-sitter alongside kitchen).

    At the same time Housing Minister exploited mass-media as a means of public communication, reaching large audience apropos “under-occupied” premises dilemma. Adamant to convey that accommodation sharing was a key solution to chronic homelessness by the destitute, yet low income recipients in dire straits (due to the highly inflated rental market) weren’t offered any such panacea.

    To jog the memory, Dept of Housing apparently flogged public housing assets while playing a corporate high-flyer’s role. Just as deregulated banks borrowed recklessly to finance speculative bubble. Ballooned as treacherous pollies abolished death duty and halved the capital gains tax.

    Prompting frenzy feeding via negative gearing with tax deductibility of the interest against all the income. Hence the rental market’s inflation! To offset which, public housing ought to represent at least 6% of the total housing stock. Because public housing underpins an entire housing system, besides an anti-inflationary benefit to the economy.

    Where life’s vital necessities should have never turned into lucrative commodities. Yet astonishingly Aussie taxpayers subsidised in fact govt endorsed scams to the detriment civil society. Not before Director General Natalie McDonald declared in the Tenant News Feb 2005: “Dept of Housing will continue to reinvest in quality housing outcomes and assist as many Queenslanders as possible to enjoy the security and equity, public housing offers”!

    Indeed, what a deceit by the ruling elite! One may be excused for feeling as an inmate in the ghetto, where sociopathic bureaucrats practised sadism reflexes. Hence the long overdue, imperative ENT consultation awaited by me since Jan 18, 2005. Whilst the closed-shop affiliated GPs treated me with the utter contempt. Outrageously ignoring the fact that the recurrent respiratory track infections emanated as a result of my dry nasal passages, dehydrated mucus membrane of which impoverished autoimmune system defences. As viral/bacterial infiltrations afflicted ultimately my ears and lungs.

    Surely dry eyes, dry mouth and salivary glands decline, had something in common. As much as a blasting airconditioning impact on my entire skeletomuscular anatomy. Likely acute my flatmate’s neck-n-back woes just as mine sprang as a result of cold draughts exposure. Unless rheumatoid arthritis afflicted her neck/back in turn. Clearly research of such matters to benefit both of us, if not for Dept of Housing callous bureaucrats insistence that on me was to hit the road, sprawled with homeless. On a mission impossible to secure any alternative public housing for the senior citizen.

    Useful otherwise to provide needed support to the principal tenant, ovarian cancer sufferer, stage IIIC metastased papillary serous carcinoma. Luckily at least in remission since Sept 2010. Yet as an oncologist set periodic checkups approached, imperative on a cancer sufferer was to share any misgivings, alleviating thus creeping anxiety. Otherwise contributing to the elevated blood pressure, dizziness and a risk of falling. Dreaded particularly outcome for the abandoned to languish on her own.

  5. Pamyla

    To Dudley Horscroft
    As to your comment “they have been living in cheap accommodation – possibly for most of their working lives – residing at the expense of the other taxpayers who have provided that accommodation for them” i say that
    1.while these ol;der people were in employment they actually paid a market rent which in fact subsidized those in Departmental accomadation who were on a rebated rent.
    2. As these older tenants have aged they have kept the homlessness numbers down by providing temporary accomadation for Children, grandchildren and/or friends who may have been confronted with homelessness otherwise.
    3. that as these older generation have aged, they have provided care for Grandchildren, so as their own children have been able to participate in gainfull employment and as a result pay taxes. This has also subsidizes the need for extra child care places other wise taken up by such people without the support of ageing parents. An extra bedroom/space is needed to carry out this unpaid social support, but in fact saves the government thousands of dollars.
    4. that os these older people age many will require carers to stay in their own home, thus again saving the governemt finding placements in the already in aged care homes where spaces are already streached to the limits.
    5. But most of all- should an older person have a department approved tenant become a co-tenant, who will pay the ‘victims” compensation when the new co-tenant abuses the the existing tenant on any level, be it through, phyical and/or elder abuse, theft, destruction of personal property?
    6. When will the Governemtn build the new 8,000 odd single occupancy properties required to house those on the short list to be re-located? And will they be in the area know to the tenant and close to their existing support systems? For example, should we ethically move a self supporting person who is vision impaired from an area known by them, from a home known by them and more importantly from the comunity members who know them to a situation that is truely alien to them and where that same level of comunity /volountry/ unpaid unsubsidized support is no longer available?
    As for your comment that older children should be able to “use a motel room when visiting parents” 1. this would make the visit for many unaffordable and thus increase the isolation for older people, and 2. it would defeat the purpose if ‘adult children’ are there to care for their parent after illness or injury.
    Perhaps you should sit quietly and really put yourself in these peoples positions, the variables included and rethink what you have written before you applaud these potential changes to the lives of older people who were raised, paying taxes to a social security system that promised to care for them in their older age.

  6. Dudley Horscroft

    It is all very well spruiking the dire effects on the disabled, and the elderly, and suggesting that the elderly brought up children on the wages of the working poor, etc. But remember that they have been living in cheap accommodation – possibly for most of their working lives – residing at the expense of the other taxpayers who have provided that accommodation for them.

    A start would be to move to market rates for public housing, with due regard being taken of disabilities, income (or lack of), space required, room for guests, adult children. As an aside, one may think that adult children should normally be expected to use motel rooms when visiting parents/granparents.

    In identifying “under-occupied public housing” consideration should be given to the extent to which rules prevent the legal tenants sub-letting spare rooms, without giving the sub-tenants an occupancy right, or unduly penalizing the legal tenants for making money by sub-letting rooms.

    Undoubtedly there are many who would be greatly upset at the prospect of having to take in ‘boarders’ or ‘lodgers’ (is there a difference?) but there may be many who would rather like this option, especially if their income would be boosted and they had the right to evict those found unwelcome.

  7. Elizabeth-Dea Shanta

    A good government can be recognized by the followings;
    its treatments of the disabled, children and the elderly.

    Psychology indicates that moving house is the second most detrimental effect in a persons well being.

    Is it really a valiant way to deal with the elderly which worked hard in life, brought up children on the wages of the working poor and now struggling with the health problems of old age?

    The houses are little, not in best condition, extremely close approximation with neighbours, but it’s our home where we intend to die.

    Is an old tree uprooted by heartless bureautocratic decisions can survive in a new environment?

    When it comes to my turn I am hoping for an appointment with Dr Nitzky.

  8. Morris Leonie


    This week tenants of Public Housing all over Queensland will receive a letter from Dr Flegg, Minister for Housing and Public Works. If you have concerns regarding this letter you can access the Minister’s options at http://www.hpw.qld.gov.au and click on “housing services” under Quick Links.
    The letter contains a “Feed Back” form asking tenants to forward their “choices” in the future of their lives. For a lot of single, older tenants this letter is a very intimidating and frightening document. They have no more than a week at most to decide;
    • Would they prefer to transfer to a smaller property.
    • Pay a higher rent to stay in their present home.
    • Share their home with a stranger.
    If they decide to share their home they are given the option to;
    • Identify a person they “know” who could live with them.
    • Allow the Department to choose someone they think would be suitable.
    They are being told that the following “Benefits” might be important;
    • The sharing of rent and living expenses like electricity, gas, water, etc.
    • Extra support to help with looking after the property, cooking and cleaning etc.
    • Companionship.
    They are also given some reasons why they might not want to share;
    • Some people want to live on their own.
    • People would not want to share with people they don’t know.
    • People might be concerned about security or personal safety.
    This is understatement at its extreme to say the very least. The prospect is terrifying.
    But… they might like to think about moving to the Private Sector, if they feel they could trust Dr Flegg to give the offered “support”.
    Finally, tenants are given 11 lines of space to offer other comments or suggestions for the Department to address under-occupancy in public housing. Plus a Reply Paid envelope.

    This mail-out alone has cost the Department about $10,000 dollars at a conservative guess.
    Not much at all in the greater scheme of things, but the Minister Dr Flegg has only just begun.
    I fully intend to send my Feed Back form in the Reply Paid envelope, waste not want not, part of my rent went into that cost.
    But I also intend to do a lot more, and I am not alone.

    Although this letter is addressed to all tenants the majority of people affected by this Brilliant Idea will be seniors living alone in the homes they have lived in for many years with their partners and their children. Seniors who have worked and paid taxes, who have given partners and children to this country in times of conflict. Who are still paying taxes as GST. Seniors who are still in the huge work force of volunteers, saving this country billions of dollars annually doing unpaid work. (See Volunteering Australia or the Australian Bureau of Statistics)
    • Would they prefer to transfer to a smaller property.
    Yes, many of them will be quite willing to move to a smaller home, but many will not. I’ve seen the “Studio Apartments”, “Seniors Units” and other one bedroom units built by the Department of Housing & Public Works, they’re fine if you happen to be a total recluse who never has or wants to have another person in their home for any length of time that doesn’t require inviting them to sit down or stay for a meal. But if you want to socialise you need to do it somewhere else. If you use a wheelchair, sorry, there’s no space for it. If you have a pet, sorry, you’ll have to get rid of it. If you want to keep your sewing machine or computer or treadmill or pushbike or a display cabinet for your treasures… sorry, definitely no room for it. If you want a garden or a bit of yard to grow vegies or flowers, somewhere to sit on warm summer evenings, sorry again, you may be lucky enough to have a balcony but you’ll probably need that space to hang out your washing.
    • Pay a higher rent to stay in their present home.
    I guess that’s an option, but it doesn’t solve the problem of under-occupancy.
    The three bedroom houses built by the Department over the last fifty years are not mansions with acres of lawn and gardens. In many cases they are not only very small but are also built very close to the house next door. The main bedroom will comfortably hold a regular sized double bed but are very cramped if for any reason a couple prefer to have separate beds. The secondary bedrooms are OK for one single bed or two if they are bunks.
    In “Cluster Housing” you don’t generally get a fence between you and your next-door neighbour. Great for losing kids and pets or being invaded by someone else’s kids or pets.
    Wonderful for learning all the deep dark secrets of your neighbour’s personal lives.
    In apartment complexes even three bedrooms won’t give you much space to keep a pet or a secret. But hey, I guess it’s better than living under a railway bridge somewhere.

    • Share their home with a stranger.
    Aah… there’s the really scary bit!! They don’t use the word “stranger” but even our best friends or our family can be a strangers at times.
    The tenant can choose or the Department can choose for you. Is your judgment always reliable? Do you really trust a government department to choose for you?
    What will be the criteria for that choice?
    How will this new share-tenant be vetted? Not even the government can access all mental health records, or court records. Even if they could there is no guarantee that this share-tenant is mentally stable in all situations. Will the Department compensate you if they do damage to you or your property?
    And if you choose, then sometime down the line that choice goes wrong will you be held responsible for unpaid rent or damages caused by the share-tenant?

    Let’s look at the benefits then.
    • The sharing of rent and living expenses like electricity, gas, water, etc.
    Sorry, the rent won’t be any less for you. It will still be calculated on the COMBINED INCOME of all tenants.
    Gas and electricity… who gets to decide the ratio? Is 50-50 OK if they do washing every day, use a clothes dryer and have air-conditioning in their bedroom but you wash once weekly, dry your laundry on the clothes line and use more or less blankets according to the weather?
    Is 50-50 OK if you have a short shower and are careful with water but they have long showers and wash their dishes under the running hot water?

    • Extra support to help with looking after the property, cooking and cleaning etc
    Hmm… that could work, I hate housework, maybe they’ll do it all??? Plus mow the lawns even, but if they touch my prize orchids I won’t be responsible for them having five fingers on each hand afterwards.
    But definitely not the cooking, I have special dietary needs. Nor am I prepared to cook for somebody else and they better not use any of my food for their meals.

    • Companionship.
    Well, the reason there isn’t anyone sharing my home already is because I prefer to choose my own time and place for company, I don’t want it forced on me. I also don’t want to be companionable to somebody else when I’m in the mood for solitude.

    Dr Flegg concedes there may be reasons why tenants might not want to share;
    • Some people want to live on their own.
    This is true. You don’t have to be antisocial, you just need to want your privacy.
    • People would not want to share with people they don’t know.
    Also true. I wouldn’t even want to share with many people I DO know.
    • People might be concerned about security or personal safety.
    And this is the killer. Maybe literally. I for one don’t want to take that chance.

    We still have 11 lines allocated to “… any other comments or suggestions for the department to address under-occupancy in public housing.”

    • Build 1 & 2 bedroom units that are reasonably sized for visiting family & friends.
    • Build 1 & 2 bedroom units that have space for hobbies and medical equipment.
    • Build 1 & 2 bedroom units that are pet friendly.
    • Build 1 & 2 bedroom units that don’t have paper thin walls that allow no privacy.
    • Build 1 & 2 bedroom units that are not packed multi storied on small blocks.
    • Create 1 & 2 bedroom units by backing the 3 strikes ruling with action.
    • Create funding for 1 & 2 bedroom units by pruning dead-wood in the department.

    You can probably think of more suggestions, but I’ve had enough for one day and I’m bound to have lots of people criticising this letter and wanting to argue with me. So I’ll leave it at this and wait for the next episode.
    If you prefer to go directly to Dr Flegg, he’s still at [email protected] also at; [email protected] or email your local member.
    I’m sure that Regional Tenant Groups all over Queensland will also be holding meetings and forums in your area. Please attend those meetings.

  9. Morris Leonie


    This is not a subject to be taken lightly or in haste. The time frame for returning the Feedback Form is inadequate given that many tenants won’t have received the form in time to reply. The Feedback Form itself is far from adequate and leaves a lot to be desired. I’m concerned that there might even be parts that contravene the Australian Constitution. I’m concerned that you are a man and many tenants are women, this may seem obvious and irrelevant but I assure you that common sense is far from common and there will many people who fear that this stranger foisted upon them might be of the opposite sex. It should also be obvious that any person you don’t live with IS a stranger, in fact even the person you do live with can sometimes be a stranger.
    I would therefore like to ask;
    (Taking into account that the average three bedroom home owned by the Queensland Government is much smaller than the average three bedroom home in the private sector and very likely much smaller than your own home.)

    a. Would you be willing to share your bathroom, toilet, kitchen & laundry facilities with a stranger?
    b. Would you be willing to share your fridge and stove with a stranger?
    c. Would you be willing to share your washing machine and dryer with a stranger?

    2. Would you prefer to;
    a. Watch the TV shows or listen to music you enjoy?
    b. Watch the TV shows or listen to music a stranger enjoys?
    c. Not watch TV or listen to music at all?

    3.Would you prefer to;
    a. Share your furniture with a stranger?
    b. Get rid of half your furniture to make space for the furniture of a stranger?

    4. Would you prefer to;
    a. Get rid of your pet if a stranger doesn’t like pets?
    b. Have a pet in your home if a stranger has a pet, regardless of your dislike of or allergies to pets?

    5. Would you prefer to;
    a. Give up your car parking space to a stranger and park your car on the street?
    b. Give up part of your garden to allow for a new concrete parking space?
    c. Ask a stranger to park their car on the street?

    6. Would you prefer to;
    a. Trust a stranger with access to all of your home?
    b. Have deadlocks fitted to all inside doors?
    6a. Would you prefer to;
    a. Trust a stranger with the security of your home?
    b. Pay for any loss incurred by a stranger if you inadvertently forget to lock an exterior door?

    7. Would you prefer to;
    a. Dig up half of your garden and give the space to a stranger to plant lawn or lay gravel?
    b. Dig up half of your lawn and give the space to a stranger to grow plants that you may be allergic to or which could grow and become a burden to maintain?
    c. Allow a stranger to cut your prize-winning orchids and put them in a vase?
    d. Ban any stranger from entering your treasured garden?

    1. Will the Department pay for an extra bathroom, toilet, kitchen & laundry to be added to any dwelling with more than two bedrooms that is currently housing only one tenant if that tenant agrees to share?
    2. Will the Department pay for soundproofing of a special Entertainment Room if the tenant agrees to share?
    3. Will the Department pay for storage or compensate financially, tenants who need to make furniture space available if they agree to share?
    4. Will the Department compensate a tenant for loss of a pet or medical expenses incurred from allergies to animals for a tenant if they agree to share?
    5. Will the Department pay for extra concrete pads for car parking if a tenant agrees to share?
    6. Will the Department pay for the fitting of deadlocks on all internal doors if a tenant agrees to share?
    6.a. Will the Department pay for the fitting of any device that allows double security to exterior doors?
    Will the Department pay for extra home insurance or compensation if a tenant agrees to share?
    7. Will the Department pay to fence off half the yard and pay compensation if a tenant agrees to share?

    How does the Minister think co-tenants should be matched?
    If a tenant decides to make their own choice will they then be responsible for that person’s behaviour, rental arrears or property damage?
    Will this also apply if the tenant agrees on a person recommended by the Department?
    What criteria will the Department use in matching tenants?
    Will the Department take responsibility if the wrong choice is made?
    Can the Minister guarantee that any choice made now will always apply?
    Is the Minister or the Department qualified to ensure the health, sanity and safety of any tenant? If not, will the Department be responsible for any future costs incurred by either party for any damage to property, health or sanity of either party?
    The way that choice is worded in the Feedback Form seems to put the sole responsibility onto the tenant.

    If a tenant agrees to share, how exactly would costs of rent, electricity, gas, water etc be divided?
    Is 50-50 fair when one tenant does washing every day and uses a clothes dryer every day while the other tenant washes once a week and dries laundry on a clothes line?
    How would the average tenant decide what is fair?
    Would the Department be willing to take responsibility for deciding on the shared percentage of electricity, gas, water etc?
    Would the Department be willing to install separate meters?

    These are only some of the questions I have, or have been asked by other tenants, my friends who also live in Public Housing. Many people are concerned with the prospect of sharing, some are quite frankly terrified of being forced into sharing or losing their homes.
    I doubt very much that you or your cabinet have taken into account the depth of people’s fears and the vastness of their personalities, likes, dislikes, religions, ethnicity or their mental and emotional traits. I also question your qualifications and the qualifications of anyone in the Department, to make choices of matching these differences in tenants, who are after all only human. I doubt that the wisest psychologists in the world would take on the job. I also doubt that any accountant or lawyer would want the job of deciding the costs and legalities of this situation.
    I’m sure that any mathematician would decide that the cost of implementing this particular “solution” of under-occupancy is likely to far outweigh any savings the Department of Housing and Public Works might make.

  10. suburbanite

    It seems that the provision of public housing is extremely inequitable. You have families with young kids living in tents or motels and you have singles who have won the social housing lottery and are the sole occupants of 2 or 3 bedroom houses in established suburbs. The rise in house prices means that some of these houses have a market value north of half a million. There should be a point at which a persons circumstances are reviewed, perhaps in 5 year blocks. Many people on the margins are quietly doing it tough in regards to housing, but don’t qualify for public housing. Maybe there isn’t as much inefficiency as it seems with a few outliers skewing the perceptions.

    As far as sharing houses, this is something that many people have to do out of necessity and while many who do share houses might prefer to live alone, it’s not that difficult, I know from experience.

  11. Tom the first and best

    Increasing the occupancy of public housing has several benefits. Firstly, the increase in the number of people that are housed by public housing. Secondly, the increased environmental sustainability of higher occupancy housing. Thirdly, the increase in revenue to public housing. Fourthly, a decrease in social isolation of people living alone.

    However, I agree, it does need to be handled sensitively. There needs to be tenant a choice between downsizing and sharing as well as choice of people to share with from the waiting list and/or existing public housing tenants.

    Increasing the share-housing (not however rooming-housing) rate in the private rental sector, through education and possibly an assistance service, could help decrease the pressure on public housing to an extent.

    Removing any unnecessary obstacles to mortgages for owner-occupier share-housing would also help.

    The other measure that could help reduce empty-nesterism in the owner-occupier sector is to means-test private housing for the age pension.

    As public housing is welfare housing there is a good argument that scarce government resources should not be put into spare bedrooms. The same argument applies to means-testing housing for the aged pension with the added factor of inheritance subsidy.

    When the housing industry say, and the media usually parrot, that housing construction is this many tens of thousands of dwellings behind where it needs to be. It rather annoys me. It assumes that dwelling occupancy should continue to fall. It has in fact started to rise. This is the result of both social factors and the laws of supply and demand swinging the occupancy pendulum back up.

  12. Russ

    Alan, your last paragraph makes it sound like boarding and share-houses where the original tenant controls the lease are unheard of in Australia. The former seems to have declined over the years, but was common enough in the past. The latter is well established legally and socially.

    I think it is the sort of thing that should be encouraged, though not forced. But I’d make a few points:
    – There are probably several barriers to it happening, from increased rent for having a tenant, to whether it is legal to sublet public housing, to increased tax if the tenant is charged more than the public housing rent.
    – It would be well to not require sub-tenants to come from the public housing pool, as trust is a factor, and the more diverse the options for tenants the more likely it is they can find one. In any case, the room that person would have used will become available somewhere else.
    – It doesn’t pay to over-complicate the process. The easiest solution is just to charge rent on empty rooms and let people make their own choices whether they bring in a boarder.

    Lastly, there is a lot of mildly offensive fear-mongering going on. Is it that big a stretch to imagine that an elderly couple with help problems wouldn’t benefit greatly from having a young boarder around the house?

    Russ: AIUI, Dr Flegg’s proposition is that the empty-nesters would share with people who’re on the public housing waiting list. AD

  13. hk

    Whatever the detailed government policy is to making subsidised social housing a sustainable outcome to the wider community; the relocation of the elderly should be within walking distance of their long term neighbourhood.

  14. citizen

    The ACT government has addressed this issue by constructing smaller public housing units typically for older tenants who no longer need a standard size house. The vacated housing then becomes available to larger families.

    There is such a town-house style development in our area. It is quite attractive and located close to shops and public transport.

    Moving house is voluntary.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details