the ‘safety net’ overlooked in NSW election pledges on housing

Sally*’s voice trembles as she explains how badly she needs a place right now and how abandoned Sydney’s housing shortage has left her.

“I feel so let down. Shouldn’t this be the lucky land?” She says.

“I feel so abandoned, like I’ve abandoned even my children.”

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Sally, who asked to remain anonymous, is in dire need of council housing, the kind of housing that is almost impossible to find in Sydney at the moment.

She has five children living with her and is about to be evicted because she can no longer pay the rent.

As a recent victim of domestic violence and coming from a situation where she was unable to hold down a job, was unable to provide for her children and had no financial safety net, Sally was left with very few options.

“I applied for around 37 houses and was rejected for every single one. I was kindly told to give up,” she says. “I’ve been told there’s no point because no landlord will look at me, that I’m wasting my time.

“I have several agencies looking for me and there’s literally nothing… It’s the biggest kick in the stomach not knowing what you’re going to do for your kids.

“This is the lowest point in my life and I just need help.”

She says the government needs to build more social housing.

“There is no safety net. when is it enough The government needs to open their stupid eyes and understand that women and children are dying because of lack of housing. Otherwise we have to go back to our perpetrators,” says Sally.

“We need living space, the cost of living has risen so much that we can no longer rent anything. I’m a single mom and my rent could be $550 I just can’t keep up.”

While Sally’s situation is challenging, she is not alone – especially in western Sydney.

Latest figures released by the Community Housing Industry Association New South Wales (CHIA NSW) show that the waiting list for public housing in western Sydney has increased by 8%.

There are currently 18,377 individuals and families in the area awaiting treatment. Many are queuing in areas with wait times in excess of 10 years.

The numbers also show a 15% increase in public housing demand statewide, with 57,750 individuals and families on the waitlist.

With NSW state elections less than three weeks away, CHIA NSW chief executive Mark Degotardi says the main parties have so far only paid “lip service” to the issue.

“Nearly 58,000 families and individuals are on the social housing waiting list in NSW. These are real people struggling to stay afloat,” he says.

“We know the housing crisis is high on the minds of voters, and yet our political leaders are not treating this issue with the urgency it deserves.

“We have politicians paying lip service, but neither party has stepped up and made clear commitments to deal with the crisis. It is not too late. The big parties can help solve this crisis by increasing the state supply of social and affordable housing. But we cannot afford to wait.”

The schemes proposed so far by both parties are aimed at home buyers or owners, with some support for renters recently announced by Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet.

Labor has proposed merging three existing government agencies into a single body to tackle the social housing supply.

But advocates say these guidelines are not doing enough to address the lived reality of coerced tenants in NSW and particularly west Sydney.

Homelessness NSW chief executive Trina Jones told the Guardian that at the current rate of investment, it will take 80 years for everyone on the public housing waiting list to have a home.

She says the lack of investment has left many in precarious situations.

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“This waiting list means people have nowhere else to go. Social housing is the safety net and people used to be able to go to the rental market to access housing that was within their affordability bracket, but we had the tightest rental market in years,” she says.

“For people on low incomes, that means they have nowhere to go. So we have families that live in tents, go about their jobs, send their children to school and live off tents or trailer parks.

“And we have people who experience and are at risk of domestic and family violence and are forced to stay in dangerous and unsafe situations because they have no place to go.”

Jones says the sector has been “forgotten” and that the housing crisis is no closer to resolution, urging both parties to invest in housing services and increase the supply of social housing.

“We are 20 days from an election and there have been no announcements on housing and homelessness. And what does that say to the thousands of people struggling to keep or get a roof over their heads in NSW?”

*not her real name

• In Australia, the Lifeline crisis support service is available on 13 11 14 and The National Family Violence Counseling Service can be reached at 1800.737.732

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