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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Michael McGowan

More than $3bn of social housing sold by NSW government since Coalition took power

Former social housing block, the Sirius building.
The Sirius building in The Rocks in Sydney was used for social housing, but was sold to private buyers for $150m in 2019. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

The New South Wales government has sold off $3bn worth of social housing during its decade in power, while failing to meet its own targets for new properties.

New figures released through parliament this week show that since it was first elected in 2011, the Coalition has sold off 4,205 social housing properties across the state.

The sales have added about $3.5bn to the government’s coffers over the same period.

But while the government said all of those funds were used to prove “more, and better” social housing stock, data for new social housing constructions reveal the government has fallen well behind its own targets for new dwellings.

In 2016, the Coalition pledged to build 23,000 new social housing dwellings in the next decade as part of its Future Directions housing strategy. It committed to funding new social housing construction through the $22bn Communities Plus program.

But eight years on, with more than 50,000 people on the social housing wait list in the state, the Communities Plus program has achieved only 10% of that goal.

According to written answers provided by the government, only 2,393 social housing properties were completed under the program between 1 July 2016 and 31 December 2021.

Other types of housing have also failed to make a dent in the government’s target. The figures provided by the government show that under the same program only 101 new affordable housing dwellings have been constructed since 2016.

The government has spruiked a series of other social housing developments currently in the pipeline, including the Ivanhoe Estate in Macquarie Park in the city’s north-west. It is expected to deliver about 950 social housing and 128 affordable housing properties.

Similarly long-mooted plans to redevelop the Waterloo South public housing estates will see about 847 social housing properties constructed – about 100 more than are currently on the site – as well as 227 affordable housing dwellings.

The government said it had increased the number of “social homes” across the state by 10% since it came to power, though much of that stock is managed by community housing providers.

It also conceded that because projects funded under Communities Plus “require major redevelopments and extensive relocations and, as such, are particularly complex” the construction of developments such as Waterloo were “taking some years to complete”.

But a spokesperson from the Department of Planning said that some 7,282 “new social homes” had been delivered under the program as of June last year.

“LAHC delivered or committed 545 affordable dwellings by last financial year – already above the Future Directions 2026 target of 500,” the spokesperson said.

“The Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ), as of 28 February 2022 had also funded 2,921 new social and affordable homes across NSW through the Social and Affordable Housing Fund.

“LAHC’s strategic asset recycling program identifies ageing housing that’s sold to fund the supply of more, new, fit-for-purpose social housing. Every dollar generated from a property sale goes back to LAHC to deliver more, and better, social housing for people in need.”

But the government has faced criticism for failing to require a larger share of overall social housing in both of those projects.

Because the government requires the Land and Housing Corporation – the body responsible for managing social housing – to be “predominately self-funded”, its major social housing redevelopments funded under Communities Plus employ a 70:30 mix of private and public housing.

This week, the Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore, blasted what she called the “tragedy” of failing to secure more social housing in the Waterloo estate in the midst of the state’s housing crisis.

“We’ve got a housing crisis in Sydney, and if we can’t have social housing on publicly owned sites, where are we going to have it?” Moore said.

Labor’s shadow housing minister, Rose Jackson, has also criticised the government’s argument that social housing sales are redirected into new construction, saying that claim had been “completely debunked” by the failure to meet its own social housing targets.

“This isn’t about delivering new housing, this is about selling off valuable government assets to make money for the budget bottom line,” she said.

“The figure topping $3bn for the first time shows there is no slowing down the NSW government public housing privatisation agenda.”

She said it was “appalling” the government had continued to sell off its social housing during the housing crisis.

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