Banning drug offenders from accessing public housing sets ‘troubling precedent’

Chief of reintegration service for former prisoners claims NSW’s new policy is ‘discriminatory’

Social workers operating in Sydney’s inner city public housing estates have slammed a new policy that denies homes to those with a history of serious drug offences, saying it sets a “troubling precedent” that further marginalises people trying to leave their past behind them.

The New South Wales government announced this week it would bar anyone either recently charged or convicted of drug supply or drug manufacture offences from accessing public housing in Sydney’s inner suburbs.

Letters were sent to staff and clients at the Community Restorative Centre, the city’s largest non-government organisation working with recently released prisoners, warning them of impending criminal checks for those on public housing waiting lists in Glebe, Waterloo, Redfern and Surry Hills.

The government says public housing towers in the suburbs have become unsafe, and the policy is designed to crackdown on drug-related harm.

But Community Restorative Centre program director, Mindy Sotiri, said the policy does nothing but shift the problem elsewhere, without addressing the complex root causes that drive drug offending.

Sotiri’s organisation works with former prisoners with complex backgrounds before and after release, helping them to reintegrate, rebuild their lives, and avoid further offending.

She said she was stunned to see the letter last week.

It was “clearly discriminatory”, she said, and would disproportionately affect Indigenous Australians, who make up 25% of all people released from prison in this area.

Sotiri fears the policy sets a dangerous precedent of further punishing and marginalising people already dealt with by the courts.

“The key thing for me is that this is a really troubling precedent that extends punishment beyond the judicial system, which really has not worked anywhere,” Sotiri told Guardian Australia.

She warned the policy mirrored deeply flawed approaches taken in the United States, where some states deny welfare, housing, and support to those with a criminal record.

“The idea that we would even be creeping in that direction is really troubling because it’s something we’ve certainly not done brilliantly, but we’ve got a better record with that stuff and have given people a fair go,” Sotiri said.

“The whole point of the work that we do is saying ‘you might have done something wrong, but you’ve done your time, and now we’re going to give you every opportunity to build a life that’s not about going to prison’.”

NSW social housing minister, Pru Goward, said on Wednesday the aim of the policy was to “reduce temptation” for drugs in the estates.

Goward said that police had identified drug dealing was “particularly prevalent” in the large public housing estates involved in the policy.

“It does not mean they go to other parts of the state,” Goward told the ABC.

“But may I remind you that they are going to other parts of the state anyway. The fact is that drug dealers are part of the public housing population. This is really the first time that we’ve had the ability to manage those people.”

It mirrors tough stances taken by the federal government on welfare recipients and drugs. The stance is also reminiscent of NSW’s approach to the Martin Place tent camp.

Sydney’s tent city: homeless people rub shoulders with the elite in Martin Place

The government introduced move-on powers to remove the camp from the inner city.

Sotiri said crime statistics were stable in Sydney, despite the hype. She said effective reform in law and order often required more bravery than governments were willing to display.

“I think there is a bravery required in politics to actually tackle, at the obvious level, the causes of crime, rather than just pandering to this idea that things are getting worse or things are getting out of control, when that’s not really the case,” she said.

“It’s not very exciting politics to say ‘we’re going to tackle homelessness now’ or ‘we’re going to put case managers into the estates’. None of that sounds very exciting or innovative, but it’s actually what’s required.”

Contributor

Christopher Knaus

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
How Sydney's overheated housing market keeps young people on the streets
Runaway house prices are the talk of city dinner parties, but they also make it harder for young people to move out of homeless services into private accommodation

Paul Karp and Michael Safi

12, Feb, 2016 @9:21 PM

Article image
NSW Coalition's public housing ban for drug dealers would hit innocent, experts warn
Data reveals Berejiklian policy would disproportionately hurt Indigenous Australians

Christopher Knaus

04, Apr, 2018 @10:00 PM

Article image
Housing incentives fail to ease Sydney's affordability crisis
Government incentives in Australia’s priciest market led to construction of less than 1% of total affordable homes

Christopher Knaus

09, Apr, 2018 @3:12 PM

Article image
Homelessness in NSW: failing to meet the social housing need
The state passes move-on laws in response to homeless people camping in Sydney’s Martin Place, but where can they move to?

Nick Evershed

10, Aug, 2017 @6:00 PM

Article image
From 'supermax for kids' to family man and Indigenous role model
The young adult: Isaiah spent his teen years in and out of youth detention. Now he’s using his experience to reach others like him in western Sydney

Laura Murphy-Oates

21, Jan, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
David Dungay Jr death in custody: family rally in Sydney to demand answers
Police say 26-year-old’s death at Long Bay jail was not suspicious, but family want guards involved to be stood down and video footage to be made public

Elle Hunt

22, Dec, 2016 @3:05 AM

Article image
More than half of 147 Indigenous people who died in custody had not been found guilty
Guardian Australia investigation finds that 56% were on remand, died while fleeing police or during arrest, or were in protective custody

Calla Wahlquist, Nick Evershed and Lorena Allam

29, Aug, 2018 @6:00 PM

Article image
Black Lives Matter organisers say they’ll call off Sydney rally if premier seeks Dungay death investigation
‘We won’t stop until there is justice,’ David Dungay Jr’s nephew says

Lorena Allam

26, Jul, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
NSW police watchdog seeks power to investigate deaths in prison
‘Prompt and independent review’ is only way to overcome ‘resentment and sorrow’ among Indigenous Australians, MPs told

Michael McGowan

07, Dec, 2020 @5:59 AM

Article image
‘These are people’s homes’: the art project making public housing in Sydney's Waterloo glow
With the largest inner-city housing estate set for demolition and privatisation, residents have banded together – to stunning effect

Steph Harmon

05, Sep, 2017 @11:31 PM