Opinion: By  Nissa Phillips, Seema Sanghi and Brad Webb March 13 2023

Five out of the 10 local government areas with the highest housing need in NSW are in the Hunter.

The term “crisis” is being thrown around a lot these days.

The media has assigned the state of crisis to issues such as the environment, cost of living, the economy, and mental health.

But what exactly does it mean when we hear the term “housing crisis”?

On February 24, the Newcastle Herald reported that the Hunter was now home to five out of the 10 local government areas (LGAs) with the highest housing need.

Research from Shelter NSW’s New South Wales Regional Housing Need Report identified that residents in the LGAs of Cessnock, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Newcastle and Port Stephens struggle to access secure and affordable housing. The neighbouring LGA of Central Coast also appears in the top 10.

At a time of economic transition and opportunity, the lack of housing in the region will put a handbrake on economic diversification and growth.

The November 2022 Rental Affordability Index, produced by National Shelter, Community Sector Banking, Brotherhood St Laurence and SGS Economics and Planning, highlighted a significant worsening in affordability over the past year for regional NSW postcodes, which was preceded by a decline of equal magnitude in the previous year.

This is an issue that is of increasing concern to the people of the Hunter.

Youth Voice 2022, the Youth Committee for the Hunter’s survey of the matters affecting young people in the Hunter, identified housing access and affordability as one of the top three issues.

After two consecutive community listening campaigns, the Hunter Community Alliance identified affordable housing and homelessness, including the intersection with family violence, as a major priority for people across all spectrums of our community.

This is an issue, decades in the making, that is now culminating in the crisis we are experiencing today.

Housing supply and affordability is the product of a complex system that has different and sometimes conflicting responsibilities at every level of government in Australia.

Yet it might surprise many people that there has been no coordination of housing policy across these jurisdictions, leaving the policy debate at the mercy of incomplete data, vested interests, and political blame shifting.

Despite calls from business and public advocacy groups, it wasn’t until August 2022 that the federal government announced the establishment of a National Housing Supply and Affordability Council (NHSAC).

The NHSAC has the potential to be a game changer for housing policy in Australia.

In bringing together developers, financiers, advocacy groups, bureaucracies and academics, we now have an opportunity to create a national resource to advise governments on how to address this seemingly insurmountable problem.

This will take time, and time is not a luxury for those who are experiencing the everyday challenges of low housing supply and affordability. Coupled with that other crisis of our times, the cost of living, families in the Hunter are experiencing poverty and disadvantage in increasing numbers.

At a time of economic transition and opportunity, the lack of housing in the region will put a handbrake on economic diversification and growth.

Now is not a time to wait.

The Hunter Community Alliance is calling on the NSW Government to restore the social housing safety net of all LGAs within the Hunter to 5 per cent of total housing stock by 2027 and increase social housing stock at least every three years once social housing reaches the 5 per cent target.

The Committee for the Hunter has echoed this with a call for direct NSW Government investment to increase the stock of social, affordable and crisis housing, as well as a $500 million Hunter fund to unlock 40,000 houses held up by transport infrastructure delays.

On March 25, the people of NSW will elect the 58th Parliament of NSW. Those pitching for our votes from across all parties have crafted appealing rhetoric on housing supply and affordability in their policy platforms.

The question is, will any of them show leadership and follow through with action?

Nissa Phillips and Seema Sanghi are co-organisers of the Hunter Community Alliance.
Brad Webb is a director of the Committee for the Hunter and the NSW Council of Social Service.