More social and affordable housing a ‘matter of urgency’ for regional NSW as pandemic puts even more pressure on most vulnerable
The COVID-19 pandemic and the financial stress it’s caused millions of NSW residents has highlighted the urgent need for more social and affordable housing options across the state, prompting the Country Women’s Association (CWA) of NSW to advocate on the issue during its annual Awareness Week in September.
This year’s Awareness Week campaign runs from September 5 to 11 and has a particular emphasis on the social and affordable housing need in rural and regional NSW, as well as on women over 55 who are the fastest growing cohort of homeless people in Australia.
“We appreciate state and federal governments are putting resources towards social and affordable housing, but it is not keeping pace with the current demand, and the demand expected in the future,” said Stephanie Stanhope, President of the CWA of NSW.
The CWA of NSW is working with Mission Australia on this year’s campaign, the organisation believing access to safe and secure housing is an integral part of independence and connection within a community, and something every person deserves. Mission Australia supports people who are homeless to find housing and those at risk of becoming homeless to stay housed. This includes women and children escaping domestic and family violence, young people and people with complex needs.
“This is a constant challenge in an environment where this is such a chronic shortage of affordable housing,” said Nada Nasser, Mission Australia’s State Director (NSW/ACT/VIC).
“Affordable housing is an essential solution for individuals or families on low to moderate incomes finding it difficult to secure housing in the private rental market. Currently, Mission Australia Housing provides more than 3000 social and affordable homes across NSW, Tasmania and Queensland.
“With COVID-19 increasingly impacting people outside of Greater Sydney there is an urgent need for the NSW Government to invest in more social and affordable housing and there needs to be affordable housing options for different household sizes. Overcrowding can lead to the increased spread of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases.
“We welcome the NSW Government’s support for temporary accommodation as part of the COVID-19 response but we want people to exit from this accommodation into long-term housing and not homelessness. We also need the government to invest in long-term housing, rather than just emergency measures.”
The statistics emphasise the stark reality of the current situation, with a 2020 NSW Council of Social Services (NCOSS) report showing there was a shortfall of more than 200,000 social and affordable homes in NSW and almost 60,000 households were waiting for social housing. Waiting times in certain regions of the state can be as long as 20 years. Community housing providers believe the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing associated restrictions are only going to worsen the current situation.
“Housing affordability is an issue of real urgency for communities right across NSW. Tough COVID-19 restrictions have encouraged many people in our cities to consider a move to the regions, which has pushed up the price for homes in these areas and is impacting locals who are either looking to get into the housing market, or looking for somewhere to rent,” Stephanie said.
“It’s an increasingly difficult situation for those on the waiting list for social housing, as individuals and families struggle to keep a roof over their heads in the face of rising private market rents or have to rely on family and friends for somewhere to stay. It’s a sad fact that some of these people will actually run out of options and be forced onto the streets, contributing to the already unacceptable rates of homelessness in our state.”
In 2018, it was estimated there were 116,000 homeless people in Australia at any given time, with women over 55 years of age the fastest growing cohort. Unequal pay rates and accumulation of assets, and superannuation gaps are seen as the biggest drivers for the rising rates of homelessness for these women, compounded by situations of family violence, where women without adequate financial means are often forced to choose between homelessness and returning to an unsafe place.
“Everybody deserves to have a safe, secure and affordable place to live and we support community housing providers who are pleading for more to be done to help the state’s most vulnerable citizens. We must act now if we are to start turning around the massive shortfall that already exists in social housing stocks, and we must start taking seriously the need to make housing in general more affordable for all individuals and families,” Stephanie said.
During this year’s Awareness Week, the CWA of NSW is supporting recommendations from a raft of community housing providers to establish a dedicated NSW Government capital fund to build 5,000 new social housing properties every year for 10 years; greater investment in a comprehensive maintenance program across existing social housing properties; more consideration of the need in rural and regional NSW; new strategies and reforms that could improve overall housing affordability across the state; and superannuation reforms and improvements to the rental assistance scheme that would assist low-income earners, particularly financially-vulnerable older women.
Stephanie said some NSW CWA branches were already involved with supporting Mission Australia through their day-to-day branch activities throughout the year, and during Awareness Week, branches across the state would be working within their own communities – an in line with current COVID-19 restrictions – to raise awareness around the urgency of the issue.
To contact your nearest CWA of NSW branch to find out what they have planned for this year’s Awareness Week, follow the link: https://www.cwaofnsw.org.au/branchesgroups.html
To arrange an interview with CWA of NSW President Stephanie Stanhope or a Mission Australia spokesperson, please contact: Kylie Galbraith, Seftons, 0411 480 208 or [email protected] or Virginia Johnstone, Seftons, 0430 793 875 or [email protected]
Families and individuals currently experiencing housing stress are also available for interviews should that be of interest.