Waiting for Godot in public housing

Housing NSW (HNSW) is a body in disarray, with levels of organisation and an ability to communicate with clients far below the standards that one should expect from a government department.  Indeed, standards are below even what one would expect of a local landlord, and tenant frustration is palpable.

Government departments are busy places and it’s understandable that sometimes when you call you’ll have to wait a while to talk to someone.  However HNSW take it a step beyond this.  Whether you want to report a maintenance issue or need to speak to a client service officer about feeling threatened by your neighbours ringing up generally results in you being answered by a message that says HNSW is too busy to talk and that you should call back later.  But ‘later’ hardly ever comes, you can call all day and just keep getting the same message.

I know residents of public housing buildings that need to report urgent maintenance issues who have to call at 1am to get through.  Then when you finally do get through the call ends up being lost in the system half the time and nothing ever gets done.

One recent example of this occurred with a tenant in Redfern whose limited mobility resulted in access difficulties in their home.  It took over 6 months just for their situation to be assessed.  Another 6 months have since passed and still no action has been taken, with no indication given on when any action will occur.

In another case a high rise apartment building owned by HNSW had been experiencing flooding on and off for two months as a result of leaking pipes on the upper floors.  When contacted by my office the relevant maintenance staff were unaware of the issue, despite multiple calls from residents over a two month period.

Internal organisation within the department is abysmal.  Inquiries are constantly referred to other parts of the organisation but as soon as you get onto the new part you have to start all over again explaining the situation.  The left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing.  This results in so much duplication of effort on the part of both residents and HNSW staff – I guess that could be one explanation as to why they’re too busy to answer the phones.

The incredibly high turnover rate of staff who interact with tenants also adds to the mess.  It takes each staff member a few months to come to terms with local issues but it seems as soon as they’ve done that they end up being shuffled off to another area and you get a new staff member who has no idea what’s going on.  It makes it near impossible for anything to get done.

With over 43 000 people on the waiting list for housing in NSW the waste of time and resources is heartbreaking.  One of the first tests of our new state government, who in opposition loved to cry out that they would ‘stop waste’, will be to see whether or not they can go any meaningful way to fixing the mess that is HNSW.  Lets hope that the transition between governments doesn’t simply result in another set of delays – tenants have had enough of waiting for Godot to arrive.

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One response to “Waiting for Godot in public housing

  1. Crimson Rozella

    Last year, HNSW was advertising for “strongminded” frontline staff with a vast array of experience including extensive case management experience. They were offering $22 an hour. I’d say they’re scraping the backpacker barrel with wages like that, and I doubt they get any of the requisite skills. When I’ve finally managed to get through to anyone on the helpline, sometimes they’re good, but some of them are really thick, lack social skills, and don’t appear to understand the basic policies and procedures.. My experience of middle-management at HNSW is that they are really very good, hard working, and devoted to public housing, but with frontline staff like this, what can you expect? As usual, it comes down to money. You get what you pay for. Are the Liberals going to invest more in public housing than Labor? I’m afraid we’re going from the frying pan to the fire now.

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