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Scotland Housing sets a high bar – Can NSW measure up?

In April 2012, Scotland set the bar high after it launched its Social Housing Charter (SHC). The Charter establishes 16 standards and outcomes which all social landlords should achieve for their tenants and other customers. It will affect more than half a million households writes Michael Shreenan in this opinion piece in the May 2012 edition of The South Sydney Herald.

Under the SHC, tenants must find it easy to participate in decisions that affect them; must live in well-maintained neighbourhoods where they feel safe; and must receive services that provide evidence of continued improvement.

 Measures include: 

  • Ensuring adequate tenancy support, with particular reference to enabling new or vulnerable tenants to keep their tenancies.
  • Every tenant and other customer has their individual needs recognised, is treated justly and with respect, and receives fair access to housing and housing services.
  • Tenants’ homes are well maintained, with repairs and improvements carried out when required, and tenants are given reasonable choices when work is done.
  • Tenants and other customers find it easy to communicate with their landlord and get the information they need about their landlord – how and why that person makes decisions and the services provided.
  • Tenants and other customers live in well-maintained neighbourhoods where they feel safe.

The new Scottish Housing Regulator is established to assess and report on how well landlords are performing: to identify where they are doing well and where they need to improve. Additionally in Scotland there is also a legal requirement for landlords to actively develop and support tenant participation. “Effective tenant participation is key to landlords delivering services that tenants want and it is crucial that landlords gather and take account of the views and priorities of their tenants in shaping their services,” said Scottish Housing and Transport Minister, Keith Brown MSP.

The 16 standards are ambitious, and one wonders how well Housing NSW and other social housing providers in NSW would measure up to such a charter. The Scottish social housing system is far from perfect.

The Scottish Government, however, certainly understands its significance in community life by establishing the Regulator to ensure the legal obligations for providers are met.

It is alleged that Housing NSW has a backlog in maintenance work of over $300 million. In a recent statement, the Gillard government acknowledged that 56,000 people in NSW are seeking Social Housing, and Shelter NSW reports that 54.2 per cent of people seeking immediate accommodation from homelessness services in NSW were turned away in 2010–11. These are scary stats, which, as manager of a community service, I watch my team wrestle with every day as residents seek assistance and advocacy in trying to get a fair go in the current housing system.

Residents who have been battling the system for years tell that lack of investment by successive governments, minimum legal obligations on providers, eroding rights of tenants, inadequate quality standards, poor place management and lack of transparency are all factors as to why they have such little confidence in the state public housing system. Perhaps a charter like Scotland’s would force social housing providers to lift their game. It would only work, however, if it were equally matched with the necessary investment.

The proposed redevelopment in Redfern Waterloo may be a step forward, but it appears what is really needed is a complete overhaul of the whole social housing system where tenants have the right to influence the decisions and policies that shape the system from beginning to end.

Source: The South Sydney Herald May 2012 – www.southsydneyherald.com.au
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