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Linking Public Housing to Service Support

Over the past two years, The Department of Housing (DoH) has introduced several reforms that will impact heavily on DoH Housing tenants and those services that provide them with support reports Inner Voice in Issue 109 Spring-Summer 2007.

NSW Governments Plan for Reshaping Public Housing 2005 made changes to eligibility (tenants must have a complex need) and tenure (now short-term, fixed-term leases). Shelter described the changes as "driven by fiscal imperatives, they were dressed up as social justice-based reform". This financial difficulty and the need to update and add to housing stock has seen the department involved in sales, demolitions and transfers to social housing. Other reforms are around providing service support for the new tenants (and ageing long term tenants) with complex support needs. There is the 'Ageing in Place' and the 'Hi Rise Strategy'.

The Human Service Accord is one of these important new changes. The formal definition is:

The Accord is a policy framework to co-ordinate services for social housing residents through partnership agreements with the Department of Housing (DoH).

The government departments that have signed up to the Accord including Community Services (DOCS), Ageing Disability and Home Care, Juvenile Justice, Corrective Services, NSW Health, NSW Police, Aboriginal Housing Office as well as Community Housing providers.

The most important aspect of the Accord is that service providers get to nominate their clients for housing with the DoH. In return, the DoH gets assistance in maintaining the tenancies, services for their tenants and joint care planning where needed.

There will be no resources to implement the Accord because like other government departments in reform mode, the Accord is seen as a mechanism to 'streamline and co-ordinate existing service provision'.

The Accord fits in with other recent reforms to housing tenure. Previously, DoH provided affordable housing for people and families on a low income. Housing is now only provided to people who are assessed as needing and agreeing to service support. Other changes to eligibility include improving access to housing for older people and people with disability. Basically, DoH now only houses people with welfare needs and public housing has disappeared. The impact of this change and the huge reduction in government spending on public housing is one factor in the current affordably housing crisis.

The Eastern Suburbs Home and Community Care (HACC) Forum recently had these changes explained to them - maybe because they provide a lot of services to frail aged people and people with a disability. They agreed that "A client focused, co-ordinated and planned approach to social housing and improved access to housing for older people and people with disability", is welcomed.

The Forum is concerned that the desired co-ordinated and planned approach will be undermined by the lack of a coherent strategy to communicate with the non-government  sector, who are often the major service providers, especially on the housing estates. This view is supported by the news that an older person's housing site is planned at Gallop Court, Maroubra. The refurbishment is underway, residents affected have been moved out and those meeting the new criteria will be able to return once the building is completed. The HACC services working in the area did not know anything about this, yet DoH and DADHC have been discussing it for some time.

The high staff turnover and poor communication from local DoH teams, who are often uninformed of new departmental initiatives, is an ongoing challenge for community services in working with social housing residents. There is also concern that there is no safety net for those who do not accept support services or for those on short term tenancy agreements.

If the Accord is to deliver the promised client focused and co-ordinated services for social housing residents, the government partners will need to engage with the non -government sector through the existing community networks, where co-ordination and planning of local service delivery Occurs.

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