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Not ready, barely set, but soon to go

By Rod Plant - posted Monday, 15 May 2000

I attended and spoke at the first of Living in the Olympic State Conference held in 1998. At the second conference in 1999 depressingly similar themes emerged, of a State Government:-

  • underprepared in a large number of social impact areas;
  • unwilling to publicly acknowledge these areas and so failing to plan properly for them
  • denying that some obvious impacts, such as huge Olympic-related rent increases and evictions, are even happening

Shelter NSW launched a report "Ready … Set … Go! One Year to Go - It’s time for action on housing and homelessness for the 2000 Olympics" in September 99, exactly a year out from the Olympics. For five frustrating years Shelter has been campaigning to get the state government to take reasonable steps to protect ordinary people from adverse effects of the Games. Our specialty areas in the wide range of social impacts are the fields of people’s housing or even their homelessness. . .


Private Rental Impacts

Many people have noted the difficulty of identifying an Olympic impact in any area, particularly house and rental prices. What is needed is a precautionary and anticipatory approach to social impact management, instead of a reactive approach.

The Minister for Fair Trading says that our residential tenancies laws will protect tenants in the lead up to the Games. Let's look at the protections he outlines. If I am a careful landlord, I can ensure my tenant is on a lease expiring before the Games period; demand a massive rent increase before the Games; and, if the tenant doesn't want to pay, take my chances that the Residential Tribunal won't find the increase excessive in relation to the overheated market forces operating before the Games. In fact, there have only been 4 successful cases of tenants claiming that rent increases are excessive in the 10 year history of the Residential Tribunal.

It is not just the Shelter report that calls for strengthened tenancy legislation. The consultant's report for the Department of Fair Trading also recommended a number of legislative changes. It is not good enough to quote selectively from this report, and hope that the predicted effects do not take place. The government has left itself with no tools to deal with the impact of the Games on the residential tenancy market.

The Minister for Fair Trading and his Department have not budged from the "pretend it's not happening" stance about Olympic impacts on renters. Their own monitoring continues to show large average quarterly rises in rents across many key areas, but they choose to disregard the impact of the Olympics despite the fact that the consultants doing the monitoring note that the redevelopment associated with the Games is a factor in rent increases.

Rentwatchers has tired of the sterile debate about what constitutes an ‘Olympic impact’, and will soon launch its own proof file of these impacts. The file will include a number of case studies that document the effect the Olympics is having on tenants – rent increases, threats of eviction and growing uncertainty.

What are tenants to do if they are faced with a pre-Olympic rent increase? State Government inaction has meant there is no effective regulatory protection, so they do what hundreds have already had to do - choose between paying up and going deeper into after-housing poverty, or leaving in the faint hope of finding something less exorbitant in the pressure-cooker of the Sydney rental market.


What will happen to the homeless?

I acknowledge the actions of the Minister for Housing and Department of Housing (DoH) in moving to ameliorate the impacts of the Games on homelessness. We do have a good base of a homelessness system to start with. However, the capacity of the system is already under great strain. There are not enough resources around to deal with the issue:

  • every bed for the homeless in Sydney is full, every day. Every category of bed – singles, families, youth, domestic violence. After about 2 p.m. every day, the homeless know that there is no hope of getting a bed for that night.
  • more people have been turned away from Supported Accomodation Assistance Programme (SAAP) services than have been accommodated by them for each of the last two years.
  • the greatest pressure point for services is inner city services for single men – the Homeless Persons Information Centre (HPIC) had 900 inquiries for single men last month, more than the total inquiries it received in 1992.
  • there has been no extra money for SAAP services other than inflation adjustments for 5 years and now small adjustment for GST (about $5 million in NSW) starting the year after next. The responsibility to respond to this overwhelming demand has been shirked by both Commonwealth and State governments in the negotiations that led to this outcome.
  • there are over 97,000 families and individuals on the DoH waiting lists, so the prospect of significant numbers of people stuck too long in short or medium term refuges getting out into secure and affordable public or community housing remains slight.

This is the crisis we are facing in responding to homelessness now, before you look at the Olympics impact.

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This article is based around a speech given to the NCOSS Conference Living in the Olympic State II, held at the main Olympic Stadium at Homebush Bay in November 1999.

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About the Author

Rod Plant has been Executive Officer of Shelter NSW since February 1995. He is chair of the Sydney Welfare Rights Centre. He has previously worked in the fields of overseas aid (spending ten years in Thailand and Laos); refugee resettlement; and teaching.

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