By ERWIN CHLANDA
There are 250 public housing dwellings in the NT that would cost $100,000 each to fix up.
Housing Minister Peter Chandler’s first departmental briefing, days after the Country Liberals’ election victory in August last year, revealed that two-thirds of the Repair and Maintenance budget had been spent in the financial year’s first two months.
In Alice Springs 91 dwellings are currently empty.
Mr Chandler (pictured) says: “We inherited a legacy, not just from the previous Labor Government, but even the previous CLP Government” which included dwellings in an “atrocious standard”.
The discussions he’s having with the department – no Cabinet decision has yet been made – includes this idea: Identify 50 amongst those 250 dwellings that can be sold and we put the money towards fixing the rest.
Of these 50 dwellings, 20 are likely to be in Alice Springs.
Opponents to the idea say this would reduce the housing stock.
“I argue the reverse is happening,” says Mr Chandler. “We’ll have 200 extra homes we can use.”
He says expressions of interest are closing next month and already 80 submissions have been received “from people prepared to work with the government in solving what is no doubt a housing crisis in the NT.
“We have a terrible mess and we need to clean it up.”
Who is likely to be selected?
“It could be a mixture. In the position we’re in I can’t be too choosy,” says Mr Chandler.
“I want to deal with it quickly. If developers come in and want to redevelop a home, if investors want to come in, if first home buyers come in and see if there’s a fixer-upper – I’m happy with any of that.”
In one year land prices in the new Top End suburb of Bellamack jumped from $200,000 to $250,000.
Says Mr Chandler: “Where was the public outcry? Why wasn’t the previous government releasing more land to stop land prices going up $1000 a week?”
He says he has a “completely different view to they way public housing has been handled previously”.
He wants to roll over dwellings every 10 or 15 years “so we always have new houses coming on stream.
“As you sell them off you’re providing a first home buyers scheme” and “use the money to build new homes, providing great work for local builders.
“We need to get rid of the legacy what these homes have become, 20, 30 years old and not very well maintained.
“If we have better homes we lift the standard of the people living in them, and hold them to those standards, changing the culture within Territory Housing.”
Mr Chandler expects substantial savings can be made by streamlining the way the department deals with maintenance contracts.
He gives this example: Over a period of 12 months a lady tenant had complained – to the department and ultimately to him – about the light on top of a pole in her complex malfunctioning intermittently. Six electricians attended to the problem until it was finally fixed.
Says Mr Chandler: “Have we paid the previous electricians? Under the processes in place they had.
“They had paid six times to have a job done that should have been done right the first time.
“There was no proactive measure in place to check on the workmanship that was being done. I said, that’s got to change.”
Len Griffiths, Department of Housing Regional Executive Director Central Australia, says dwellings are vacated for a number of reasons: “Tenants relocate, some dwellings are handed back due to antisocial behaviour or a dwelling is no longer cost effective to maintain.
“All vacated properties undergo an assessment of their ongoing viability [which] includes, but is not limited to, the density of public housing in the surrounding area.
“The zoning of the land and potential for redevelopment is also considered.”
Mr Chandler confirmed that a high concentration of public housing in an area may be a reason for selling some.
Says Mr Griffiths: “The department has undertaken maintenance and minor works to the value of $7.6M in urban housing in Alice Springs in the 2012/13 financial year” – mostly in the first two months, as Mr Chandler discovered.
“This is a considerable contribution to the economy in Alice Springs and reflects similar expenditure in the region to the previous financial year.”
PHOTO: One of the 91 public housing dwellings in Alice Springs unoccupied and awaiting repairs.
By ERWIN CHLANDA