IT seems very strange, at first glance, that dozens of public housing properties are lying vacant at the same time as 4400 families are queuing for shelter.
The Housing Department has provided a number of explanations that may help make the mismatch appear less shocking, but the chief underlying excuse supplied – that the department is understaffed and overworked – doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence.
Anybody who has any experience at all of public housing in NSW will accept that it sometimes takes time to restore and repair some properties after some tenants depart. But a person with such experience will also know how frustratingly long some tenants are obliged to wait for the department to organise even quite simple maintenance and repair tasks.
According to figures obtained by this newspaper, some Hunter properties have lain vacant for more than a year and a number of others have been empty for several months.
The department has noted that some properties are in locations where tenants don’t want to live. Lack of public transport in some areas is an issue. Some neighbourhoods have also gained unfortunate reputations that mean few want to move into them, if they have any other choice.
To its credit, the department has been starting to deal with some of those issues. Some of the public housing estates with the worst reputations (whether fairly acquired or otherwise) have been or are being overhauled.
In some cases tenants have been encouraged to become owners and in others, whole streets of homes have been flattened to make way for better-designed alternatives.
Despite that progress, the Hunter has a legacy of ageing public housing stock, some of which is now considered to be socially inappropriate. Dense clusters of unit blocks populated by the most underprivileged in the community have fallen out of fashion but the funding has not yet been made available to replace them with something more appropriate.
While accepting that some of the explanations provided by the department for the surprising number of vacant properties may be reasonable, to a point, the sheer number of people wanting accommodation ought to prompt a quicker and more efficient turnaround.
THE most common and persuasive objection to permitting more bottleshops in suburbs doesn’t revolve around their proximity to schools, but to the increasing intrusion of alcohol sales into residential neighbourhoods.
This is the point that people opposing a new bottleshop at Mount Hutton seem to be trying to make.
Retailers are fighting for market share in a lucrative sales niche, but this need not oblige local governments to assist them in their battle. Indeed, many studies have linked increasing availability of alcohol to higher rates of alcohol abuse and related antisocial side effects.
On the other hand, there is no evidence of a shortage of alcohol outlets in the Hunter.