DOZENS of public housing properties are being left empty in the Hunter while more than 4400 families languish on the waiting list for years.
Housing NSW confirmed there were 77 properties vacant in the Hunter recently, at the same time as waiting times stretched out to more than a decade in some suburbs.
Data accessed under Government Information Public Access revealed there were 83 taxpayer-owned properties in the Hunter vacant in November 2010.
Two properties in the Kurri Kurri postcode were left empty for between one and two years.
There were a further 10 Hunter properties vacant for up to 180 days and 14 for between 30 and 61 days.
Hamilton had the highest number of unoccupied homes, 15, followed by seven in the Wallsend postcode.
A NSW Housing source told the Newcastle Herald lack of public transport in the Coalfields and the poor reputation of large estates made some properties more difficult to fill.
He said client service officers in the Hunter were ‘‘overloaded’’ managing hundreds of properties and were struggling to keep up.
State government figures show it takes more than a month to move sometimes desperate tenants into Housing NSW homes.
The statewide average vacancy turnaround time rose 54 per cent in two years from 20.2 days in 2008-09 to 31.3 days last financial year.
Public Service Association organiser Paul James said the department was understaffed.
‘‘There has been a lengthy freeze on in terms of recruitment processes,’’ Mr James said.
‘‘There is a great deal of uncertainty and they are understaffed which increases workloads.’’
A NSW Housing spokesman said property vacancies in the Hunter were due to works being carried out after tenants moved out, including everything from minor repairs to kitchen upgrades.
He said long vacancies occurred when properties were earmarked to be sold or redeveloped and funds from sales were reinvested into new buildings or upgrades to existing accommodation.
Two vacant department homes were passed in at auction at Stockton recently.
One beachfront property, in Griffith Avenue, attracted only a single bidder and was placed for sale for $100,000 more than the price reached at the auction.
‘‘Housing NSW generally has a higher occupancy rate than the private rental market...,’’ the spokesman said.
‘‘In order to meet demand properties are re-let as soon as possible.’’
There are more than 10,000 Housing NSW properties in the Hunter.
Waiting times for a three-bedroom house in Newcastle, Port Stephens, Lake Macquarie, Cessnock, Denman and Maitland are up to 10 years.