Sunday, June 04, 2006

their plans for our communities

La Luna's future assets

Now for something more local, but obviously dear to my heart, the state of public and community housing, and its future in South Australia, and particularly for La Luna Housing Co-op, the CHO (Community Housing Organisation) with which I'm housed.

Back on May 12 I attended an information session organised by the Community Housing Council of SA (CHCSA), at which Peter Smith, deputy CEO of the Department of Families and Communities, presented an outline of the sweeping changes to social housing services announced by the Minister, Jay Weatherill, a few days earlier. Smith's full presentation is available here.

The changes are complex and are linked to other changes in social welfare provision. They include the formation of a new umbrella organisation, Housing SA, to work in conjunction with Disabilities SA and Families SA in [hopefully] creating a tighter, more coherent and effective community welfare network. Michael Jacobs has reported on this in the May 5-18 edition of The Adelaide Review, p3.

Obviously the key organisation in the provision of public or 'social' housing in SA over the past 50 years has been the SA Housing Trust, and reform of this organisation has naturally been a target for government. To judge from the info session, the state government has been impressed with the community housing model for provision particularly of special needs housing, an expanding area which the old Housing Trust model has struggled with. The model they're talking about, though, is not that of small special-interest Co-ops such as La Luna, but large Associations run by NGOs such as Anglicare. Their hope is to transfer much of the Housing Trust stock, with tenants, to CHOs, which not only would free the government from having to service these declining assets directly, but would shift the stock from the 'public housing' classification to a classification (community housing) that would attract Commonwealth Rental Assistance (CRA).

The governance plans set out in this first stage of the reforms sound fine enough of course, and they're obviously well-intentioned, but it will take some time to work out how effective they are in practice. It's also unclear as to how they'll impact on little La luna. The eventual plans, to move housing stock to the community housing sector and to implement CRA capture in one form or another, clearly have implications, but we'll have to wait and see what will be in it for us.

Something that Smith raised in the info session has rung a few alarm bells. Government is looking at the community housing sector and wondering whether some 4000 houses run by about 120 CHOs, each one a separate administration or bureaucracy, is the most efficient way of doing things. It's perhaps a typically government-bureaucratic way of looking at things. It might be worth mentioning to government that these 120 separate enitities are each communities, not just bureaucracies. The fact remains, though, that some CHOs are struggling, and might well be under more pressure, post-reform, to justify their continued existence in their present form. That means forced mergers. We shouldn't be touched by this, and certainly we need to hold out against those types of faux-efficiency arguments.

Next, I want to look more closely at the CRA agenda, though that might be quite speculative at this stage.


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