‘Bloody appalling’: NSW government yet to spend $300m in rental relief
The Berejiklian government has spent about $10 million of $220 million in rental relief promised almost a year ago for residential tenants in NSW who were struggling to pay their rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Labor and tenants’ advocates are pushing for the unused funds to help renters and landlords, as federal government support payments aimed at salving the financial impact of the crisis wind back this month.
The NSW government said last April it would spend $440 million on relief for renters who had lost at least 25 per cent of their income, or businesses whose revenue dropped at least 30 per cent due to the crisis.
The funding was aimed at keeping tenants in properties for six months and would be provided through land tax waivers or rebates split evenly between residential and commercial landlords, the government said.
NSW Finance Minister Damien Tudehope said the government had provided $95 million in land tax relief for 14,669 properties to March 11. He said about one third of those properties were residential and the rest were commercial.
Revenue NSW’s Chief Commissioner of state revenue, Scott Johnston, last week told budget estimates about $86.63 million had been paid to commercial landlords and $10.33 million to residential landlords. The vast bulk of the funds went to metropolitan areas.
Federal Labor’s spokesman on housing and homelessness Jason Clare said: “[The NSW government] promised $220 million to people who lost their jobs to help pay their rent. They only delivered 4.6 per cent of that.
“And now just as JobKeeper is about to end and more people could lose their jobs they are shutting the whole scheme down. It’s bloody appalling. They need to fix it fast and get help to the people who really need it.”
The package required landlords and tenants to negotiate in a bid to stop rent strikes or evictions. It included a moratorium on applications for forced evictions due to rental arrears, which will expire on March 27.
Tenants’ Union of NSW chief executive Leo Patterson Ross said only 16 to 20 per cent of residential landlords paid land tax and lower-income renters, including those in industries hit hard by COVID-19 such as tourism and hospitality, were less likely to live in more expensive properties that would have been eligible.
“There was probably a mismatch in the program. It’s just such a limited pool and it’s the [residents of] higher value properties that are less likely to be COVID-affected.”
Mr Patterson Ross believes the government should spend the money on direct financial assistance or low-interest loan schemes to help tenants pay off rental arrears and other debt accumulated during the crisis.
Opposition spokesman for finance Daniel Mookhey asked Mr Tudehope during budget estimates whether the $300 million-plus still available could help provide relief to those who “face a debt hangover of rent arrears”.
Mr Tudehope replied he was “open to any discussion in respect of assisting small business” and the government was “committed to supporting small businesses and lessees, whether it is residential or commercial”.
On Monday, Mr Tudehope said it was “a demand driven program and the final cost of the land tax relief will not be known until later this year with landlords still able to claim the relief”.
“Up to $440 million was allowed for in the announcement of this COVID-19 relief measure – a generous estimate to ensure there was no risk of anyone missing out. Any surplus will remain in consolidated revenue and will help fund other initiatives as required to help with the economic recovery.”
The state government announced a six-month transition phase once the government’s rental relief scheme ends on March 27.
This will mean tenants and landlords will be able to enter a repayment plan for any rental arrears triggered by the pandemic and tenants can only be evicted if they fail to meet the terms.
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Megan Gorrey is the Urban Affairs reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.