Affordable Housing in Parliament

Jack de Groot, CEO St Vincent de Paul Society NSW

On Thursday 3 August, Vinnies is making history by taking a petition of 16,300 signatures to the NSW Parliament to have the issue of affordable housing properly debated and hopefully legislated.

It is estimated 875,000 households in Australia are experiencing housing stress right now. This is unacceptable. With median house prices in Sydney over $1 million and rental prices pushing the average tenant to spend 29 per cent of their income on rent[i], it is no surprise that Vinnies and other community sector organisations are seeing increases in demand for our services.

The effects of these mounting pressures on NSW residents are perhaps most obvious with the growing number of tents in Martin Place. The reality for most people facing homelessness however, is not necessarily that they will end up sleeping rough but much more commonly they will be forced to sleep in their cars, crisis accommodation or a friend’s house. So the growing number of tents in Sydney is just the tip of the iceberg.

While charities are working harder and harder to meet demand, it’s time to look at the big picture and call on our government to make policy changes that will support and look after the people we assist, and ensure others can continue to live in our cities without having to face the possibility of homelessness.

The Vinnies Right to Home campaign is asking for 15 per cent affordable housing on all new housing developments – that’s one in six units. We are also calling for a 30 per cent affordable housing target for development on government owned land – that’s 3 in 10 units. These are not unrealistic or radical targets as many other developed countries and major cities around the world have even higher affordable housing benchmarks.

In New York City, for instance, planners can choose between different options to meet their affordable housing obligations. They can choose 30 per cent of residential floor area must be for affordable housing units for residents with incomes averaging 80 per cent Area Median Income or option 2: 25 per cent of residential floor area must be for affordable housing units for residents with incomes averaging 60 per cent of the Area Median Income.

Closer to home, South Australia has an inclusionary scheme with a target of 15 per cent on all new significant developments.

Even closer to home again, the Greater Sydney Commission supports the principle of inclusionary zoning but only mentions 5 to 10 per cent in its draft District Plans for Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park.

PwC have recommended that a target of 35 per cent should be applied across the board based on international comparisons. Inclusionary zoning is a common and necessary practice for urban areas around the world – it’s time NSW joined in.

Middle to low-income earners are feeling the squeeze as housing and rental prices push them further from their workplaces. The longer we allow this to go on without any government legislation to help keep the teachers, waiters, police officers, and nurses in our metropolitan areas, the more our cities will become the playgrounds of the rich.

We have begun to see a shift in the discussions around housing affordability to include the rental market and not just housing. Thousands of renters are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, let alone thinking of buying their first home. The Liberal government’s recent budget black hole for renters and people experiencing disadvantage was a disappointing outcome however we look forward to seeing the government improve Sydney’s housing affordability by accepting our zoning targets.

The St Vincent de Paul Society were encouraged to see the NSW Labor Opposition back our suggestions which is a crucial step towards seeing these targets become government legislation. With the petition being introduced to NSW Parliament by Liberal member Mr Damien Tudehope and with the support of the Greens, Independent Alex Greenwich and the Labor Party, we’re hoping to finally get the multi-partisan support needed to address Sydney’s housing crisis.

Also supporting our call for inclusionary zoning is Amy Brown, Partner, Infrastructure & Urban Renewal at PwC, and author of their report A place for everyone, Tackling Sydney’s affordable housing crisis (2017).

Ms Brown said that the NSW rental system is one of the world's most unstable and unaffordable making it very difficult for low to moderate income earners to live in high amenity locations and close to jobs and services.

 “Providing more housing at affordable rental rates, closer to the jobs of key workers will also have significant benefit to our economy. With every 30 minutes that key workers commute in traffic amounts to $815,000 in lost economic benefit,” she says.

“There are currently few policies to incentivise the supply of affordable rental housing to meet the vast need a number of levers must be pulled, including the opportunity for the government to set inclusionary zoning.”

This Thursday will be a big day in NSW Parliament as pressure mounts for the government to make significant policy changes that will finally allow affordable housing to become a requirement in our urban planning. Middle to low income earners deserve to feel welcomed and supported in our metropolitan areas regardless of their income and occupation.

We urge all sides of parliament to not just admit Sydney has a housing problem but to take steps to fix this, especially for those struggling to maintain a roof over their heads. Let’s make Sydney liveable again, for everyone.

[i] According to the latest Rental Affordability Index (RAI), issued by SGS Economics and Planning.