‘A shrinking resource’:Report highlights scarcity of social housing

A nationwide scarcity of social housing means that some applicants can expect to wait more than 10 years for a home in most parts of Sydney.

A study by the UNSW City Futures Research Centre has revealed a 42 per cent drop in the number of households allocated social housing in the past three decades. Meanwhile,the number of applicants with the greatest need has soared by almost 50 per cent in the three years to 2021.

Social housing shortages have been intensified by the pandemic.

Social housing shortages have been intensified by the pandemic.Paul Jeffers

The report found state and territory governments face “unenviable challenges in rationing a static or shrinking resource” while waitlists balloon.

An increasing number of people with the most urgent need for housing,exacerbated by the pandemic,means a family with less severe needs can expect to wait more than ten years for a three-bedroom property in most parts of Sydney.

“Once upon a time jumping from public housing to ownership was possible for thousands of people every year. Today that is almost non-existent,” said report lead author UNSW Professor Hal Pawson.

“The private housing market has created an enormous gap between the income you need to get into the very bottom end of home ownership and the eligible income for social housing.”

City Futures’ research found strict criteria in NSW and Western Australia meant priority applicants were housed more quickly than elsewhere,but that led to longer waits for candidates with less complex needs.

In NSW,the proportion of social homes allocated to the highest priority households increased from 41 per cent to 60 per cent in the six years to 2021.

TheHerald last year revealed NSW was falling behind states like Victoria and Queensland,which made unprecedented funding pledges for social housing construction in response to the pandemic. Victoria and Queensland will account for more than 60 per cent of the nation’s social housing construction,and 80 per cent of the net increase between 2021 and 2024.

However,national stock is set to grow by 30,000 homes over the next six years under the new federal Labor government’s $10 billion election pledge towards a Housing Future Fund.

Pawson said NSW would benefit from the increased funding,but it would not be a short-term fix.

“That’s on the horizon,but there is currently no bridge to that moment from the state itself committing to an investment program ... like Victoria and Queensland,” he said.

A spokeswoman for NSW Planning and Homes Minister Anthony Roberts said the state’s long-term housing vision had increased stock by 10 per cent over the past decade,while $9 billion had been invested in the sector in half that time.

“We welcome Commonwealth funding because we cannot tackle this alone,” she said. “We need all tiers of government,along with the private sector and communities,to increase the supply of homes and affordability.”

The state government’s 2016 Future Directions policy included a plan to build 23,000 social housing properties over 10 years. So far it has delivered 10 per cent of its target.

The City Futures paper is the first independent review of social housing demand management in Australia. In its state-by-state breakdown it found “high churn rates” in NSW,with more than 6000 social housing applicants cancelling or lapsing their registration in NSW last year.

Pawson said this reflected people who could not meet income eligibility criteria,or who did not renew their interest on the waitlist. There are about 50,000 households on the social housing waitlist in NSW.

NSW Labor housing spokeswoman Rose Jackson said a substantial portion of new properties under the federal government program needed to be in NSW,which has some of the highest unmet demand.

“The sharp increase in rents is having a major impact on demand for social and affordable housing – particularly in regional areas,” she said.

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Lucy Cormack is a state political reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.

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