Greens in Parliament: Addressing Antisocial Behaviour in Public Housing

Today we called on the Government take steps to address antisocial behaviour in public housing without making vulnerable people homeless. 


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) [11.40 p.m.]: On behalf of The Greens I make a contribution to debate on the Residential Tenancies and Housing Legislation Amendment (Public Housing—Antisocial Behaviour) Bill 2015. I acknowledge the work done by the Minister for Social Housing, in particular, his visits to public housing areas and most recently the opening of the RedLink Integrated Services Hub in the Newtown electorate. Antisocial behaviour is a real problem in public housing. It is unfortunate, but I do not believe that the bill addresses the serious concerns that the Minister and other members recognise are serious concerns associated with antisocial behaviour in public housing.

The bill purports to improve the ability of social housing landlords to manage antisocial behaviour and evict tenants who engage in criminal or other behaviour. However, there are problems with the legislation and that is why The Greens oppose it. The bill purports to address antisocial behaviour but, instead, it is discriminating against those living in public housing by creating special rules which will result in tenants in public housing being treated differently from others in the community. Our legal system has existing laws that deal with criminal and antisocial behaviour. We cannot support the creation of special rules that isolate public housing tenants with a different form of justice. The Greens recognise the importance of ensuring safety and wellbeing for all social housing tenants, but this legislation will not improve the capacity of a social housing provider in most cases to address illegal and antisocial behaviour and will undermine justice in cases where the tribunal's discretion is removed.

We recognise that antisocial behaviour is a huge problem. Since being elected as the member for Newtown, I have had many public housing tenants raise serious concerns about antisocial behaviour in public housing areas. However, it must be acknowledged that submissions have been received from the Tenants' Union of NSW, the Law Society of NSW, the NSW Women's Alliance, a coalition of community legal centres, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, and Community Legal Centres NSW and they have raised significant concerns that the bill does not allow tenants to be treated fairly under the justice system. I will outline the specific concerns of The Greens, which have also been raised by a number of those groups. They are matters that must be taken seriously. We are concerned that public housing tenants, who are already in vulnerable situations, will be more at risk because it is unclear what will happen to them when they are kicked out of the public housing environment. Members in this place have raised concerns about the removal of the tribunal's discretion over the termination of leases.

Another concern is the impact on tenants when an occupant has engaged in criminal or antisocial behaviour or conduct. I draw the attention of the House to the story of a family who came to see me recently. There were three generations living in one house—the grandparents, parents and children. One of the children was a teenage boy. Teenagers often engage in behaviour in which parents do not want them to engage. Such behaviour might involve them engaging in conduct that could be interpreted as illegal or problematic under this legislation. If parents are aware that their child has an addiction to drugs or may have been partying a little hard and playing with something they would not condone, the family's tenancy in public housing would be put at risk. Parents in our community who discover that their children are using illegal substances or growing a bit of pot in a cupboard would not kick their children out as their housing tenancy would be threatened.

Mr Brad Hazzard: Is he dealing? The people we are after are the ones who are dealing and causing disruptions.

Ms JENNY LEONG: What happens to a family in those circumstances? Are the parents of that child to take action that is different from what we would expect from the most compassionate parents when they find out that their child is involved in any wrongdoing? The impact of antisocial behaviour on those living in public housing and their community is a huge problem. Concerns have been raised about the removal of the tribunal's capacity to consider and make determinations based on evidence and the difficult processes for challenging strike notices. A move has been foreshadowed to extend the period for challenging a strike notice from 14 days to 21 days. Public housing tenants who are in the most vulnerable of circumstances and rely on community service advocates to assist them often do not have access to emails and often do not have a regular phone number on which they can be contacted. Therefore, the idea of putting strict time limits on the ability to respond to or challenge strike notices is a serious concern. It also appears that tenants cannot dispute the costs of maintenance work. The Greens and others who have provided submissions have flagged that issue as a concern.

I will refer to a specific case relating to one constituent who raised concerns about the impact that antisocial behaviour was having in his public housing area as it demonstrates the compassion that public housing tenants have when dealing with antisocial behaviour. A gentleman came to my office and raised concerns about a female neighbour who was suffering from mental illness. She had an addiction problem and she was yelling and screaming out obscenities in the night. He was nervous about raising the issue with us. He knew that the woman needed help and support but he was worried about raising the issue as she would be evicted and he did not know where she would go. One question has not yet been answered. What happens to people when they are evicted? Public housing tenants are often the most vulnerable people and our public housing service should afford them the right to safe and secure housing.

Although some of those people are suffering from addiction or mental health issues, or they are engaging in criminal or antisocial behaviour, they have still been allocated public housing. If they are thrown out where do they go? More pressure will be put on community services that deal with crisis accommodation and more people will be sleeping rough on our streets. We must address this serious concern. It is important also to look at other ways of resolving those concerns. The Shelter NSW 2012 report entitled "We look after our neighbours here" stated that while tenants knew there were real concerns about antisocial behaviour and drug and alcohol issues, they saw that the solutions needed high levels of support for both the tenants with certain behaviours and those dealing with the behaviours. There was little focus from the tenants on evicting problem tenants. The 2007 Good Practice Guide of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute stated:

Disciplinary approaches ignore the effects of poor health, low skills and poverty on self-esteem and coping skills. They also rely on the threat of eviction for their success and to be effective the threat must be real... The assumption is that forcing them into crisis they will be more responsive to requests to change their behaviour. This argument must also be rejected since the unresponsive tenant faces a genuine risk of eviction with all its deleterious effects.

Shelter NSW's 2015 report highlights the need for good support services to address issues such as mental illness and drug addiction that are behind much of the antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour in public housing is a real issue but The Greens cannot support this bill because we do not believe it takes the necessary steps. Like many in the community who made submissions while the bill was being debated in this place, The Greens support the idea of further consultation and of working with tenants in public housing. After consultations with public housing advocates we must come up with solutions to address antisocial behaviour while ensuring that we do not impose different rights and different forms of justice on those who live in public housing. The Greens have listened to the concerns of the community and the sector. We acknowledge and thank the Minister and his advisers for providing us with briefings and with details of the bill. We hope there will be an opportunity to work collaboratively to address the concerns that have been raised by the sector as this bill goes through this House and the other place.


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