The auditor was also told some staff were too busy to follow up on minor and moderate antisocial behaviour.
The anti-social behaviour of public housing tenants made workers at four of the state’s offices “often” nervous, in 12 other regions they were “sometimes” nervous but in four areas staff were “rarely” or “never” nervous, the auditor reported.
These findings come in the same week the NSW government passed new laws to force “problem” tenants to pay a bond and a “three strikes” policy to speed up evictions for those who commit fraud.
The NSW Auditor asked staff and tenants about the “strikes” policy – intended to promote safety and security in public housing by evicting bad tenants after three strikes – but the majority saw no improvement since it began in 2015.
NSW Tenants Union policy officer Leo Patterson Ross said the rise in drug-dealing reports, from 69 in 2016 to 122 last year, was “relatively small” across a portfolio of 120,000 properties.
“What they’re doing is struggling to cope with difficulties in their lives and that can come out in damaging behaviour, but what the government seems to think is that these people are purely evil and need to be punished,” Mr Patterson Ross said.
“All it does is make people’s lives more miserable for no real benefit – there’s no evidence-based discussion around this. They [the NSW government] talk at the NGOs and say, ‘This is what we’re doing’ and when we say, ‘Don’t do that, it’s a terrible idea,’ they do it anyway.”
But for residents such as Jason Vorva, who lives a block away from public housing towers in Waterloo, the drug use, loitering and burglary are “relatively constant” and he is frustrated itâ€™s “allowed to continue”.
“Iâ€™ve given up calling the police unless thereâ€™s a blood-curdling scream,” Mr Vorva said. “I’ve seen people pull out of the housing commission unit there and roll down their window and throw a handful of used needles out on the street and I’ve seen that more than once.
“When you live around it for a while you get sad, apathetic but also frustrated because I feel like it’s allowed to continue. The parade of people who are well into their drug addiction is really sad.
“I look out my window in the morning and see people drinking with signs up saying there’s no public drinking here.”
Jason Vorva lives in Waterloo and is sick of the drug use and bad behaviour of some public housing tenants.
Photo: Brook Mitchell.
Mr Vorva’s patio area was broken into about a week ago and, the week before that, his neighbour’s bike was stolen from his patio area. Neither of them bothered to report it to the police.
“Honestly, I didn’t want to take the time to report it because there’s no effect,” he said. “Weâ€™re invested in staying and living here, we love it here but there are those problems.”
A “local allocation strategy” has been introduced to exclude people with recent drug supply or manufacturing convictions from being housed in Redfern, Waterloo, Surry Hills or Glebe.
Drug offences in Waterloo and Redfern were more than 1000 incidents per year from 2013 to 2017, but the trend in drug crime across Redfern has dropped by about 9 per cent annually.
A NSW Police spokeswoman said officers work “closely with other government agencies to support housing policies”.
“[Redfern police] engage the community and conduct regular high-visibility patrols in and around social housing estates,” she said.
The effects of public housing on local crime were “generally small, at most, an additional 3 per cent” once social factors are controlled for, one Sydney study found. And many social housing estates have lower rates of crime than surrounding areas, Australian research has found.
“Housos” cop stereotypes as drug-using dole bludgers but this is not always true and a dozen tenants from properties in Waterloo and Redfern spoke to the Herald on Monday. None of them were prepared to be named because they feared reprisals.
“People who live here might not look flash but theyâ€™re down-to-earth folk who help each other. I hate it when they call us housos,” a man in his 50s said. “We get kicked in the guts by the public and the media but we have to grin and bear it. We look after each other.”
“It’s very hard to talk to FACS because they are understaffed and poorly organised,” one man said.
“Itâ€™s like the lunatics are running the asylum,” another quipped.
“I can’t complain, I don’t speak enough English!” one older man joked.
Residents say that drug use, loitering and burglary are ‘relatively constant’.
Photo: Christopher Pearce
Many people said the FACS system for handling complaints was too slow and they had given up reporting issues, because “you don’t get much satisfaction” and can spend more than an hour on the phone as you get “bounced around from person to person”.
A younger man said he thought Redfern was quieter at night than places such as Manly or even Newtown where “it gets intense” from Thursday to Sunday night.
“We don’t have anything like that, there are a few small pockets in the area with daytime drinkers but you find that stuff everywhere I think, overall the number of bad people who live here is small,” he said.
Homelessness NSW chief executive Katherine McKernan said that, instead of looking for ways to evict tenants with “strikes”, the government should be maintaining tenancies and “not cycling people into public housing then out and then back in”.
“Two in five people trying to access crisis accommodation are now unable to get in, and for two in three people who do get into a homelessness service, they aren’t housed at the end of the support because there’s simply no housing to access.
“We think we need a social housing plan of about 5000 homes a year until 2026 to meet the current demand,” Ms McKernan said.
The net number of new public housing dwellings that will be built over 10 years was calculated to be 9900, by UNSWâ€™s City Futures Research Centre Professor Hal Pawson.
Shelter NSW chief executive Karen Walsh has worked in social housing policy for about 20 years and said the mix of people who find themselves homeless is “really different” than it was.
“People who had low and high support needs were being housed together years ago and they could support each other but now the majority of people are in the highest needs category,” Ms Walsh said.
“Itâ€™s a confluence of the crisis that the community finds itself in. The gap between the properties that are being delivered and the unmet need is increasing.
“For people that are already really disadvantaged, people that are older, young people and Aboriginal people, these are the ones that are getting hurt most because the system is absolutely failing them.”
Sydney state MP Alex Greenwich said homelessness was now at “epidemic levels”.
“A disaster that threatens life on a large scale is often declared a state of emergency, which initiates urgent action to make people safe and help them recover. Homelessness is putting tens of thousands of lives at risk; there is no reason not to invoke a similar response,” Mr Greenwich said.
“Just like a bushfire, homelessness can burn through a person’s entire life, and just like a flood, it can wash away all hope.”
Minister for Social Housing Pru Goward’s spokeswoman said the NSW government had “committed more than $1 billion over the next four years for homelessness services”.
All FACS housing staff are “undergoing a mandatory program of training and accreditation” with a module on managing antisocial behaviour, she said.
Nigel Gladstone is The Sydney Morning Herald’s data journalist.
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