The NSW government should build 5000 social and affordable houses each year for the next decade as the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic hits already-struggling households, according to the state's peak body for social services.
Residents were already struggling to make ends meet before the coronavirus outbreak, according to new research by the NSW Council of Social Service, with low and middle-income households taking “extreme” measures due to cost pressures.
Last year people were pawning possessions, eschewing air conditioning and skipping meals, according to the survey of 730 people throughout NSW.
The NCOSS, which released the research on Monday, said it showed housing costs to be the “devouring monster” of the weekly budget in NSW.
More than one third of survey respondents reported paying more than a third of their income on housing costs, with one fifth paying more than 40 per cent.
A quarter of respondents hadn’t been able to pay their utility bills on time and 19 per cent reported being unable to make mortgage or rent payments on time.
Single parents and couples with children in NSW reported the highest rates of housing stress, at 68 per cent and 45 per cent respectively.
NCOSS chief executive Joanna Quilty on Monday told reporters these pressures could be eased by a sustained boost to the supply of social and affordable NSW housing, with up to 60,000 people currently on social housing waiting lists.
She called for 5000 social and affordable houses to be built each year for the next 10 years, as well as a social housing capital fund to purchase private properties and repurpose them.
This would be particularly important as the economic downturn prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic increased unemployment and job insecurity.
“We can turn this around,” Ms Quilty said.
“Our message to the NSW government is clear – boost the supply of social and affordable houses, support vulnerable households and stimulate the construction industry in the process.”
The NCOSS also sought the establishment of a $30 million fund to supplement existing social service programs and enable small to medium-sized organisations to meet demand.
The council likewise called for the establishment of a NSW Institute for the Social Services Industry (NISSI) comprising the NSW government, NCOSS, academic institutions and the community sector to develop the industry and grow the workforce.
Homelessness NSW chief executive Katherine McKernan said the NSW government had shown through its $34 million temporary accommodation package for the COVID-19 pandemic that it had the resources to end homelessness, but lacked the political will.
“We have the resources and if we take the action and prioritise it, we can end homelessness,” Ms McKernan told reporters on Monday.
“Housing keeps people healthy and well and we can’t continue to allow people to keep being homeless and sleeping on the street.”