Cessnock Electorate Social Housing NSW Maintenance Backlog

As members of Parliament, we often try to give voice to those who are voiceless. Today I draw attention to the apparent backlog of maintenance issues with Housing NSW properties in my electorate. I am not talking about the lack of properties, which is causing people to be on waiting lists for many years; rather, I am talking about residents who are already tenants and who have to live in substandard conditions. As far as being a landlord goes, the New South Wales Government appears to be not a very good one for anyone who has a maintenance issue, especially a big maintenance issue. Tenants are doing the right thing by contacting the maintenance line. Their concerns are registered. Sometimes the first call will result in a contractor being sent out and sometimes they even get the problem fixed. That is how the system should work and, on occasions, it does. But for many that is a dream result and far from the lived reality.

People who contact my office often have contacted the maintenance line on numerous occasions and had many contractors visit the property who took photos and lodged reports, but it seems that that is where the service stops. Perhaps one easy-to-fix problem will be rectified whereas the more difficult ones are forgotten. One lady has been to my office many times over the past few months. She has four children and it would be an understatement to describe the condition of her house as a disgrace. There are holes in the walls, holes in the floor, black mould in the bathroom and even a gaping hole in the outside wall that goes through to the inside and lets the weather in. Recently during bad winter weather a branch from a tree she previously reported as needing to be removed went through the roof—and, yes, now there is another hole in the house. That hole in the roof is letting the weather and outside conditions into the house she occupies.

Housing NSW is working with her, but nothing is being resolved. Numerous contractors have come to the house she occupies, taken photos and submitted reports, but nothing has happened. Could that be because, as more than one contractor has said, the property should be bulldozed and rebuilt as opposed to being patched? The department has said that it will put her in temporary accommodation—a mother, her four children and one dog. No family of five should be placed in a motel room for an extended period while a house is rebuilt, so the mother said no to the motel room. The department has said that it will try to find her more suitable temporary accommodation but so far it has been unsuccessful. Meanwhile, the mother, her four children and the family dog are living in a property—for which they are paying rent—that in the private sector would not be rentable and would probably be condemned.

I do not condemn the staff who are attempting to help this lady. They have rules, regulations and guidelines and a budget they have to abide by. I do not condemn the contractors who attend, take photos and make reports. They have to wait for the work to be approved within budget. However, I do condemn the lack of funding that stops the maintenance work being approved and performed, which places this family—and so many other families in my electorate—in the position of living in a property that no-one should have to live in. I condemn the lack of funding that allows a property to get into that state in the first place. There appears to be no such thing as preventative maintenance anymore, only reactive maintenance. In far too many cases, reactive maintenance is being delayed for far too long.

The stress this places on tenants is huge—and in this instance it includes four children. Stress not only affects their physical health but also their mental health. This mother has had to defer her university course because of the trauma involved with her home. Some use the idiom “to pull yourself up by the bootstraps”. This woman is trying to do exactly that by completing her education, but she is getting no help and support. She is doing everything in her power to improve her future prospects, and that of her children, but she is being stymied by a poorly maintained house. These circumstances maybe outside her control, but they are not outside the control of the New South Wales Government.

As a local member of Parliament, whether in Opposition or in Government, I attend Parliament House in Macquarie Street and participate in the Government of New South Wales. In conclusion, I have a short addendum. On 12 June 2018 I sent representations on behalf of this family. In August 2018 I received an unsatisfactory response to those representations. On Tuesday this week my office again contacted the Minister’s office to explain how a recent storm had further affected this particular house. I am happy to report that of this morning the Government has taken action to help this family. I appreciate that support.