United effort will unlock housing for all

By Nuatali Nelmes

Homelessness is one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time.

It's a multilayered issue that needs a coordinated response from local, state and federal governments.

In the Newcastle Local Government Area alone, there are 1179 approved households on the NSW Social Housing Register awaiting social housing, for which the wait times are between five and 10 years.

Add to that the pervasive impacts of a global pandemic, such as job losses, rent rises, an overheated property market, as well as the hidden homelessness experienced by those couch surfing or in between homes, and it paints a much bleaker picture of the sheer number of people in housing stress - an estimated 10,700 households across Newcastle.

Alarmingly, data and anecdotal evidence from local services providers, including City of Newcastle charity partner Nova for Women and Children, shows affordable housing demand far outstrips supply.

Furthermore, the demographics of those most at risk are changing, with the fastest-growing cohorts including women over 50 and young people squeezed out of the rental market.

This will go some way to closing the gap between the 4780 public and community housing properties currently fully occupied, and the anticipated demand for 7000 to 7500 dwellings by 2041.

Bricks and mortar will always be the clearest immediate solution.

That's why City of Newcastle has committed to expediting the development of the City of Newcastle Affordable Housing Contributions Scheme, under which 15 per cent of new dwellings or floor space on privately developed land is mandated as affordable housing in new housing developments.

This will go some way to closing the gap between the 4780 public and community housing properties currently fully occupied, and the anticipated demand for 7000 to 7500 dwellings by 2041.

But safe, affordable housing provision is only one element of our homelessness response.

As outlined in City of Newcastle's submission to the Committee on Community Services' inquiry into existing and alternate accommodation options, strategic community partnerships, pilot programs and associated services are also key in addressing the social housing shortage.

Our recommendations included establishing regional social and affordable housing-focused taskforces, increasing opportunities for community housing providers to supply and manage social housing, and continuing to work with Local Aboriginal Land Councils to deliver culturally appropriate housing.

In addition to the Affordable Housing Contributions Scheme, City of Newcastle is implementing a range of reforms at local government level, including in 2020 the adoption of our Local Housing Strategy, which identifies the need for more affordable housing with forecast population growth.

The city is also working with organisations such as the Hunter Community Alliance to identify partnership opportunities to tackle homelessness in the region, such as a pilot of dedicated safe rough sleeping zones across the city, which could be overseen by council staff, NSW Police, and local service providers such as Soul Cafe.

We are also proud to support local not-for-profit organisation Hunter Homeless Connect, an outreach service that provides practical, dignified assistance to those experiencing homelessness.

This included $10,000 in Boost Our City grant funding as part of the city's COVID-19 response package to expand Hunter Homeless Connect's online Community Services Directory, and more than $15,000 in additional support as the beneficiary of the 2021 Annual Lord Mayor's Prayer Breakfast.

City of Newcastle has a strong history of partnering with the NSW Government to address housing and homelessness to provide valuable local insights and support state led initiatives.

Recently, we resolved to develop a memorandum of understanding with the NSW Land and Housing Corporation to expedite the delivery of new and refurbished social and affordable housing, including the exploration of a Make Room project in Newcastle, based on City of Melbourne and the Victorian Government's model.

While City of Newcastle works to deliver a grassroots response, we know affordable housing funding is primarily the responsibility of the state and federal governments.

Secure housing is a fundamental human right.

It plays a crucial role in the health and wellbeing of families and individuals.

While ever the gap widens, it is up to us as government and community leaders to tackle homelessness as a united front.

Nuatali Nelmes is the lord mayor of Newcastle

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