We Must Address the Housing Affordability Crisis

Today I called on the Government to take meaningful action to address the Housing Affordability Crisis. 


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) [12.41 p.m.]: It is hard to escape talk of the housing boom when one lives in Sydney. When we sit down in an inner-west or inner-city cafe inevitably the surrounding talk turns to capital gains, negative gearing, home renovations and speculation about whether housing prices will continue to increase and whether the bubble will burst. However, for the significant number of renters across Sydney, including the 56 per cent of households in the electorate of Newtown who are renters, life is a lot less about boom and much more about bust. There is much less talk about Renovation Rescue and much more about residual mould removal. Due to skyrocketing rents, unscrupulous landlords, short leases, the failure to fix basic maintenance issues, and the chronic shortage of affordable housing options, renters in Sydney and the electorate of Newtown are suffering. The impact of this situation on our community and our society is clear.

This week is Anti-Poverty Week, which highlights the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship around the world, and particularly in Australia. While there are many reasons that people experience poverty and many ways in which we must step up to address them, the Council of Social Service of New South Wales says that an issue raised time and again is the continuing lack of social and affordable housing. The last census found that nearly 95,000 households in New South Wales pay more than 50 per cent of their income in rent. These are often people who are not earning a huge wage in the first place. It is hard to fathom how they manage to survive on what they have left after handing over half to their landlord. The demand for social housing continues to rise when increasing rents price people out of the private market, when social or public housing is not available, and when people are forced on to the streets to sleep rough. Members know of numerous cases of constituents having been on the high-priority or at-risk waiting list for months and who in the meantime must sleep rough or deal with the insecurity of accessing temporary accommodation.

The Greens strongly believe that instead of selling public housing assets we should invest in them. We must recognise people's right to access safe, secure and affordable housing. At a recent public meeting at the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre people identified housing affordability and homelessness as their greatest concerns. The centre has noted an increase in the number of people who are in insecure housing or who are affected by homelessness. I look forward to working with the centre and the community in addressing these issues locally.

The housing crisis facing this State is not simply a problem in the public and community housing sector. The crisis in housing affordability is putting immense pressure on people throughout the community. Public housing tenants, private renters and private homeowners across the State are experiencing housing stress. The proportion of children growing up in privately rented properties continues to increase and the prospects of younger generations becoming homeowners are declining, with home ownership rates in the 25- to 44-year-old age group continuing to decline.

The prospect of long-term renting is now a reality for many, and that is why we need to address private rental insecurity. Almost half of single parents now rent privately, and we know and should address the impact that that housing insecurity will have on future generations. Today's Sydney Morning Herald has an article about an SGS Economics and Planning report that identifies Sydney's liveability. It points out the growing wellbeing gap that exists between those who have a secure job and home and those who are facing housing insecurity. The article states that the second most important issue defining personal wellbeing after our family and personal relationships is the house in which we live.

Another worrying and unsurprising trend is the growing rate of homelessness in our city. Homelessness NSW is acutely aware of that issue and raised it with me when I met with representatives recently. I was pleased to be able to attend the NSW Federation of Housing Associations' launch of the "Affordable Housing through the Planning System: Industry Strategy Paper". The paper seeks to set targets for the Government to mandate affordable housing in all new developments. We know that we will not solve the housing crisis by pumping money into the speculative housing market through the tax system or by holding the community to ransom and threatening not to invest unless it involves privatisation of our publicly owned assets.

We also know that we can make changes now to improve the security and safety of renters in our community. One of the things that we can do to protect the vibrant inner-city areas and to ensure diversity in our community is to reform the Rental Tenancies Act to remove no-grounds evictions, to cap rents according to the consumer price index and to ensure that rents can be increased only once a year. I will campaign strongly to achieve those changes so that we can provide security for renters in inner-city Sydney. We need a framework that protects renters' rights and we must amend our legislation to address the housing affordability crisis. We must treat housing as a social and economic right that requires public investment to improve the wellbeing of the people living in our cities.


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