Accordingly there is a growing demand for government subsidised property, with the NSW Department of Housing offering citizens the opportunity to rent at an affordable rate capped between 25-30% of the tenant’s income.
The waiting list for this service is currently around 60,000 names long.
“It’s daunting…you put your name down and you know you’ve got to wait fifteen years. I actually forgot about it because it took so long,” recalls Greens councillor for Sydney and current public housing resident Irene Doutney.
ABS statistics from 2009 show that the system already provides 122,000 living spaces occupied by 230,000 people but is struggling to keep up with the exponentially increasing demand for public housing.
7535 tenants in these households are on a transfer waiting list, which once again subjects people to lengthy waiting periods a mountain of paper work. For elderly tenants like Doutney, this leaves residents struggling to access the accommodation they waited over ten years to acquire.
“We get people who can’t manage stairs and need a transfer into something more suitable…It takes time, and often if they can’t get home, it then becomes a problem for the health system because they end up having to stay in hospital,” says social worker Marietta Cordi, who has worked in hospitals around NSW.
“If you’re prepared to go anywhere the wait is a lot shorter, but then who wants to go to Leumeah?” says Doutney.
To avoid ending up on the outskirts of Sydney and the “daunting” bureaucracy of the Department of Housing, Facebook pages such as Housing Commisison Swap Sydney have been created which promise tech-savvy public housing tenants to “swap your housing commission with a more suitable home in a more suitable suburb.”
The idea of “swapping” tax-payer funded properties over social media sits uncomfortably with some people.
“If you’re on public housing you shouldn’t have a choice in where you choose to reside. It’s not a luxury to choose cheap rent” says Dominic Giannini, a student from the University of New South Wales.
Doutney instead presents an opinion concerned with the welfare of the tenants involved in the swap.
“I think it’s got the potential to exploit people. I mean it could be really convenient and if you know that the other person is in housing, but you still have to put it through the department because if you get caught, you end up homeless.”
The 3,100 likers of Housing Commission Swap Sydney suggest that the system responsible for providing a necessary service to the most vulnerable within society is ineffective. It also reveals a lack of public empathy towards those relying on public housing and ignorance towards the numerous scenarios that leave a person reliant on the public housing system.
Many of these situations are not premeditated and unavoidable.
“I’ve come across normal people who’ve lost their job and subsequently lost their house, lost everything…It’s scary… It could happen to anybody,” says Cordi.
Currently, Government subsidised properties located within the CBD such as Millers Point are being sold off to private buyers and replaced by houses located in suburbs on the outskirts of Sydney . The demeaning stigma attached to public housing tenants seemingly legitimates this exclusion from inner city suburbs.
“These places are in the middle of nowhere…You’re cut off from employment, you’re cut off from your medical services, you’re cut off from you’re social services, your cut off from you’re community,” says Doutney.
“Why should they be second class citizens? Why should somebody who’s worked all their life, had a heart attack, lost their home, ended up in public housing be punished more?’
But these stereotypes are not entirely devoid of any truth, according to Cordi.
“I don’t think it [The DoH] is ineffective, I think that it is doing the best it can with the amount of resources it has got. Early intervention is the better way to go – making sure people are employable, so that they don’t reach the state where they actually need public housing”
The City of Sydney Council’s recent statement calling on more funds to be invested in public housing seems like progress. But, if funds are received only to speed up the concentrated development of accommodation for the socially and economically disadvantaged on the edge of the CBD, is the sentiment misguided? Is the government instead systematically entrenching social-spatial inequality within the state, founded on a misconception of the kind of person dependent on public housing?