Jenny Leong speaks on urgency for more public housing and genuinely affordable housing

 Everybody needs a safe and secure place to call home. This is a simple statement that nobody in this place would dispute, yet sadly right now it is not something being borne out in our communities. From the inner city—where the good people of the electorate of Newtown live—to the regions, people across the State are struggling to keep a roof over their head as the housing crisis continues to deepen. Interest rates are still edging upwards, short‑term rentals are choking secure rental supply and the construction of new public housing has ground to a halt as existing estates are threatened with demolition. Meanwhile, State and Federal Labor's unwillingness to freeze and control rents has allowed rents to soar completely unchecked.

The latest Rental Affordability Index from National Shelter and SGS Economics & Planning shows that over the past year affordability has nosedived in every Australian city but Hobart and Canberra. Over 60 per cent of people in the electorate of Newtown are renters. In Sydney, affordability plummeted by 13 per cent. People on JobSeeker living in our city must now spend 137 per cent of their weekly income just to rent a one‑bedroom apartment. To be clear, that is not possible, which means housing insecurity and homelessness are a reality for so many people. This would be a disgrace anywhere, but in the richest State in one of the richest countries in the world it simply beggars belief. We must do so much more.

This Government is touting new supply as the silver bullet to solving this wicked problem. Make no mistake, The Greens know that new housing supply must be part of the solution. But to meaningfully address the housing unaffordability crisis that is crushing our communities, this new supply needs to actually be affordable. Those struggling to meet their housing costs right now will not be helped by more luxury apartments that most people cannot afford and families cannot fit in.

But what is affordable housing? The term itself has become ubiquitous in discussions of boosting housing supply but its definition is slippery and seems to vary, depending on who you ask. It would be reasonable to assume, as many do, that affordable housing means housing people can rent without going into rental stress or spending more than 30 per cent of their income on weekly rent. But according to New South Wales planning law, affordable housing is rental housing for low to moderate incomes that is managed by a community housing provider and "let at a discount of at least 20 per cent of market rent".

Here I note that there is currently no requirement for community housing providers to be non‑profit, leaving the door open for private providers to profit in this space. In an uncapped rental market, this "discount to market" model means the term "affordable housing" is deeply misleading. In practice, a 20 per cent discount on market rent means that people can be paying huge proportions of their income in a rental property that is technically affordable housing but in reality is anything but. In one so-called affordable housing complex in the city, two-bedroom units rent at $1,150 per week, and a one-bedroom rents for $775. This is outrageous and so far beyond what the community can afford.

What is more, affordable housing does not have to be affordable forever. Currently, rents for affordable housing properties delivered through the housing system only need to be discounted for a minimum of 15 years, at which time they return to the private market. The idea of time-limiting a solution to the housing crisis, which we know is deeply entrenched and cannot and will not be solved in 15 years, is absurd. Because there is no central oversight or register of affordable housing, we do not even know how many affordable housing dwellings there are in New South Wales, or how many have returned to the private market. All of these loopholes are ones we desperately need to close if affordable housing is to be part of our housing solution. In the new year I look forward to bringing legislation on behalf of The Greens to do just that.

I end on this point: While The Greens support the inclusion of affordable housing with all of those loopholes closed in new housing developments, it is absolutely crucial that it is not seen as a get out of jail free card for the Government. Affordable housing cannot replace public housing built, maintained and managed by the Government—public housing that our communities so desperately and immediately need right now. Tackling the housing crisis will take a range of solutions: public housing, genuinely affordable housing, caps and controls on rents, tighter regulations on short-term rentals, high quality and supported specialist crisis and temporary housing with all the necessary wraparound and supports, as well as housing that meets sustainability and accessibility standards. The Greens are committed to working with the New South Wales Labor Government to deliver these things so that everybody has a safe and secure place to call home.

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