A rental crisis and a bloated waitlist for social housing have sparked calls for the New South Wales government to do more to help the sector despite treasurer Matt Kean suggesting no substantial investments will be announced in Tuesday’s state budget.
Speaking at St George hospital in Kogarah on Monday, Kean said the government would instead invest in “upgrading the maintenance of social housing, making the stock more resilient”. He conceded it would not add to supply but would make existing homes more livable.
“What it does do is ensure that we are keeping that housing stock in public hands,” Kean said. “What we’re going to be doing is investing, dealing with the capital maintenance backlog, not by recycling but by upgrading the investment.”
Despite pleas from housing advocates to increase its investment in social housing, the government has primarily focused on homebuyers ahead of the budget, with a $780m shared equity scheme announced on Sunday, alongside $500m for housing planning and infrastructure reforms.
The schemes were announced as part of a broader $2.8bn package to address the housing crisis that will feature heavily in the big-spend pre-election budget and feature ticket items on healthcare and childcare.
But the Community Housing Industry Association’s (CHIA) NSW head of policy, Caitlin McDowell, said more needed to be done to help more than 50,000 families waiting for social housing spots – a number that could grow.
“Our concern is that in those flood-affected areas, there were over 3000 homes rendered uninhabitable,” McDowell said.
“If we don’t see some direct action now, we can expect the situation to worsen.
“The social housing waiting list is a proxy for the real extent of need.”
The organization has called on the government to invest $400m over two years to build new homes in partnership with the community housing sector.
An open letter to the premier, signed by the state’s top housing bodies, including CHIA NSW, Shelter NSW, and urban thinktank the Committee for Sydney, called for affordable housing to be dealt with in the budget.
“With interest rates and rental prices rising, more people are struggling to keep a roof over their heads,” the joint letter reads.
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“Housing affordability and supply are at a crisis point, and our most vulnerable citizens are shouldering the most challenging impacts as a result.”
The groups said long-term underfunding in the sector had left tens of thousands of families nowhere to go for help or homes.
“They are left to find shelter on couches or in cars, caravans parks, and even the streets,” the letter reads.
More than 50,000 households were on the waitlist for social housing in June last year, according to NSW government figures, with nearly 6000 households classified as a priority needs.
Other states have made significant pledges towards increasing social housing stock over the past two years, with Victoria commencing construction on 6000 of the 12,000 total new dwellings as part of its promise to improve the state’s housing stock by 10% and Queensland committing to 1200 new dwellings on the eve of its state budget.
In April, the NSW government’s figures revealed the state had sold off $3bn worth of social housing during its decade in power.
The government had also failed to meet its supply targets after pledging in 2016 to build 23,000 new social housing dwellings over the subsequent decade through the $22bn Communities Plus program. As of the end of 2021, it had completed only 2,393 houses.
In October last year, the NSW government announced it was funneling $183m into accelerating the building of 1400 social housing dwellings to assist in economic recovery after the Covid-19 lockdowns.