Berejiklian’s Focus on Housing Welcomed by Vinnies

Story appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

Gladys Berejiklian has staked housing affordability as one of her priorities. This comes as welcome news to those of us working to assist people struggling to afford a roof over their heads.

Our new Premier’s position reflects the heightened concern among the public that housing in NSW is unaffordable, whether in Sydney or regional areas.

Ms Berejiklian has already opened her door and said she is seeking advice from people outside of government and the bureaucracy.

We will happily take up this opportunity and talk to her about what the St Vincent de Paul Society and others in the not-for-profit sector see as solutions to the lack of affordable housing in this state.

The new Premier should not focus on just boosting the supply of housing. That isn’t enough. Housing has to be affordable for low income renters as well.

Many people are being pushed to the margins, on the brink of homelessness. Marilyn* had worked as a mental health nurse until she was in her seventies when she retired due to failing health. As a renter in the private market all her life, she found that her superannuation, pension and savings were not enough to pay her rent and bills. Finally, facing eviction, she overcame her shame and sought help from Vinnies. With our assistance, she has found a comfortable place to live.

The fact that Sydney is the second most expensive housing market in the world has a devastating impact on not only those people looking to move into the property market as buyers but also those struggling to find affordable housing to rent.

Having more expensive housing owned by landlords looking to make a good return on their investment does not help low paid workers who are forced to live further and further away from their jobs. It is not unusual to hear about teachers, train drivers and retail workers who have a two hour commute each way every day to their work.

That is why we are calling for a change to planning laws so that at least 15 per cent of new residential developments are set aside for affordable housing where rent is less than 30 per cent of income. And not just in inner Sydney, but across the state.

We need 100,000 new social and affordable homes in NSW over the next 20 years to combat the current 10-year waiting list for social and affordable housing.

There was no mention of a target in the proposed amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 announced earlier in January by Minister Rob Stokes.

Perhaps our new Premier might be open to considering a target which would be a significant step in the direction of building homes for those on lower incomes.

Late last year Vinnies launched a petition calling for a target. It has already exceeded 11,000 signatures. 

Volunteers and employees were active in their local communities, in Sydney suburbs and small regional towns, generating discussion and signatures. It is obvious this is an issue of concern to everyone, regardless of where they live. And it appears our new Premier has heard the rumbling.

With the cost of housing rising at twice the rate of inflation over the last 10 years, housing is the largest area of expenditure for Australian households. Housing stress occurs when over 30 per cent of income goes towards accommodation. It is estimated 875,000 households in Australia are experiencing housing stress now.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison is travelling to London to hear about the solutions to their shortage of affordable housing. There they have a tranche of measures which are working together to address the issue.

Hopefully he’ll come home with new initiatives to share with our Premier to help improve housing affordability in Australia’s largest state. Safe and stable housing is a fundamental right for all Australians but until all levels of governments collaborate with institutional investors and the not-for-profit sector we will still see thousands battling to maintain a place to call home.

*Marilyn is not her real name.