Newcastle Herald, May 27 2020
In a first for the Hunter, the community sector has come together with developers, the construction sector and community housing providers to call for more investment in social and affordable housing. This will save jobs in the construction sector, provide homes and security for vulnerable Australians while helping the economy recover from the impacts of the coronavirus.
The Australian Council of Social Service estimates there is a national shortage of more than 400,000 homes that are affordable for people who are homeless or living on the lowest incomes. A snapshot of our own region shows that just 5.5 per cent of rental properties advertised across the Newcastle/Lake Macquarie, Hunter, Central Coast and Mid Coast regions were affordable for households on income support.
COVID-19 has exacerbated this crisis as more households experience financial and housing stress – including people who have unexpectedly found themselves at risk of losing income and their homes.
In the Hunter, the construction sector employs over 26,000 people (almost 10 per cent of the workforce) and generates economic output of $13 billion.
According to the latest data from the Housing Industry Association, half a million jobs in residential construction are at risk across Australia over the next year as a result of COVID-19 impacts, including at least 160,000 in NSW.
Policies that increase the stock of social and affordable housing can help stimulate the construction sector while providing homes for people most in need. However more supply is just one part of the solution to a complex problem. The housing crisis will only be addressed through joined-up thinking and collaboration.
There is an opportunity for governments to partner with the Hunter and test new approaches to housing affordability that cross disciplines, sectors and levels of government.
A cross-sector alliance of Committee for the Hunter members has extended this invitation to the NSW and Federal Treasurers and Housing Ministers. The alliance comprises the Samaritans, Compass Housing, Master Builders – Newcastle, and the Hunter chapters of the Urban Development Institute of Australia and the Property Council of Australia.
Providing safe and affordable housing for all Australians would be a remarkable legacy from this unimaginable situation.
Alice Thompson is the CEO for the Committee for the Hunter.