Homelessness in NSW: failing to meet the social housing need

The state passes move-on laws in response to homeless people camping in Sydney’s Martin Place, but where can they move to?

The availability of social housing in New South Wales has failed to keep up with increases in population and demand.

The NSW government passed new laws allowing the government to move homeless people on from crown land in response to homeless people camping in Martin Place. The lord mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, had refused to clear the Martin Place “tent city” unless the state government agreed to a list of demands, including a guarantee of new long-term housing for the homeless.

A Guardian Australia analysis of housing figures shows that NSW is one of three states or territories where the waiting list for social housing has increased while the supply of social housing, when adjusted for population and demand, has gone backwards.

National figures on social housing, which includes public housing (housing provided by the government), community housing (affordable housing run by non-government organisations), and Indigenous community housing, are collected by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), with collated figures published by the Productivity Commission.

The amount of social housing in each state and territory has either increased slightly or stayed fairly static over time. Due to differences in data collection for each jurisdiction, states and territories are not directly comparable.

total social housing

The AIHW also provides the number of current households in social housing, and the waiting list for social housing in each state. The current national waiting list is 194,592.

Using the combined figure of the waiting list and current social housing households as a measure of the total demand for social housing, we can adjust the social housing figures to see if the total supply of social housing available has kept pace with need. The closer the figure is to 1, the closer the state or territory is to providing a house for everyone who wants one.

social housing per demand

This suggests that most states aren’t providing enough social housing but also that, in three states and territories, the pressure on social housing stock has increased due to a lack of investment in new provision to match rising demand.

South Australia had a sharp increase in community housing waiting list numbers in 2015-16, while the figures for Tasmania have moved both up and down over the time period, with numbers lower in 2015-16 than in 2011-12.

In NSW, the downward trend is less pronounced, but Housing NSW has published more years of waiting list figures than the AIHW, so we can see a slightly longer view of social housing as a proportion of demand, which clearly shows the long-term trend towards decreased availability:

NSW social housing per demand

The AIHW also tracks the number of people accessing specialist homelessness support services, which is a good indication of the number of homeless people in each state or territory (though not as good as a direct count – see here for more detail).

AIHW services by state and territory

These data show recent increases in NSW, the Northern Territory and Tasmania, suggesting more people have become homeless in each area.

It’s also worth noting that the waiting list for social housing and homelessness figures only capture a fraction of housing need.

Hal Pawson, associate director of the City Futures Research Centre at UNSW, says, “For example, recently published 2016 census data showed that, across Australia, there are 403,000 low-income private renters in housing stress – that is, paying rents equating to more than 30% of gross income. Similarly in New South Wales, lower-income renters in housing stress number over 120,000 – more than double the number of registered waiting list applicants.”

Contributor

Nick Evershed

The GuardianTramp

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