Social and Affordable Housing

30th November 2023


Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (20:17): Here we are: We have reached the final sitting day, I believe, of 2023. Undoubtedly it has been a big year for everyone here. There has been a change of government, a change of Speaker and many new faces around the building. We will all leave here this evening—hopefully!—and return to our communities to consider the year that has been, our priorities for 2024, and hopefully take a little time to relax and be with our loved ones. Unfortunately, for many in our communities, and particularly this year, the festive season is not a time of joy and happiness. Rather, it is a time of increased stress, anxiety and, for many, loneliness.

The community of Lake Macquarie is a generous one that I am proud to represent. We have many local charities and not-for-profit groups operated by an army of local volunteers. While naming them all in this Chamber today would probably take up my allotted five minutes, I acknowledge the work of Southlakes Incorporated, Survivor's R Us, Wyee Community Hub, the Salvation Army and the Toronto Community Kitchen. Those local community groups provide so much to support our community, particularly at this time of year.

Recently I have been speaking a lot to these local not-for-profit groups, and what they have been telling me is very concerning. They tell me they have never seen the need in the community to be so great. They tell me that the demand on their services has never been so high. They are telling me that this year it is not only the homeless, the unemployed and pensioners seeking assistance but also a growing number of working families in financial crisis. These working families, after paying rent and bills, have no money left in the bank for food, let alone the little extras for Christmas. Thankfully, our local charities are there to provide some little extra comforts for our community members in need. But our local charities are telling me that this year they are unable to meet the community's demands.

All members in this House are aware of the housing crisis in this State, particularly the lack of public and affordable housing. As at 31 October, there were 708 households in Lake Macquarie on the New South Wales social housing waitlist, with 50 of these being priority cases. The median wait time for social housing applicants in Lake Macquarie in September this year was 25.4 months, which is over two years. For priority applicants, it was 3.7 months. This is unacceptable. The growing demand for social housing has a flow-on effect on the demand for crisis accommodation. It means that there are more people in need of crisis accommodation and needing this accommodation for longer periods. Adding to the challenge, over the summer holiday period in popular tourist areas such as Lake Macquarie many of the properties that would be used for crisis accommodation are rented out as tourist accommodation through short-term holiday letting. This means there is less crisis accommodation available over these periods.

Currently, homeless shelters in the region are full every night. Local charities are providing tents as a temporary housing option and local not-for-profit groups are looking at available private car parks to allow the increasing number of people living in their cars a safer place to sleep and access to basic living facilities. Our local not-for-profit support services are telling me that in 40 years their staff have never witnessed what they are witnessing now. They have accepted that they are no longer able to keep people "safe"; instead they are doing their best to keep people "safer". The right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate shelter, is a universal human right. We are failing to provide this to a growing number of people in our community.

I understand that this issue is one the Government has inherited; it is a complex issue and I acknowledge the steps that the Government has taken to address this problem, including increasing the initial period of temporary accommodation provided. These steps are welcome and helpful, but they do not address the main problem—the lack of available temporary and social housing. I know that tackling social housing and homelessness is a priority for the Government. Getting people into secure social housing absolutely must be a key priority, but these projects take time and we need to find a way to keep people safe, not just "safer", as a matter of urgency. This may require some creative solutions. There are many local community groups and not-for-profit organisations in my area who are desperate to assist the Government with fast-tracking crisis accommodation projects. They need funding to help them do this. We must take every opportunity to engage with these groups to explore every possible solution to this problem now.

<< Previous | Next >>