Housing affordability in Lake Macquarie

1st June 2023

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (17:24): Trying to find a rental property in Lake Macquarie at the moment is like trying to find a particular grain of sand in sandbox. Even when you do find it, expect to join a queue of people at the inspection, and expect many of them to be angry, emotional and worrying about whether they will actually have a roof over their heads when their current lease expires. You can also expect to pay at least 20 per cent more than you were paying just a year ago. It is at the point where I cringe every time I hear the phrase "housing crisis" because it just does not seem to do justice to the problem. We are in a housing emergency. Families, some with two working parents and three kids, are being forced into emergency accommodation or the backyards of family or friends like never before. They might even be able to afford the ridiculous rents, but finding a place to actually rent in the first place is proving nigh impossible.

Members know that this problem is not limited to Lake Macquarie. All electorates share this issue—the scenes are being played out across the State. Whatever well-intentioned efforts have been made to fix the problem, we are not even getting close to easing it. Rental vacancies in Lake Macquarie are at an all-time low and prices are at an all-time high. Staff in my electorate office speak every day with people who are desperate to find a home. The price is one thing; the availability is something else. Local charities are now providing concerning levels of assistance to people living in cars while they wait for a rental property to become available. Those same charities report that more and more people are turning to shared, subsidised or social housing as a means of keeping a roof over their heads. It is true that recent interest rate hikes have slowed the local property market, but that does not translate to more homes being available to those who need them. In fact, investors trying to keep up with mortgage repayments on their investment properties are in turn fuelling the rise in costs for their tenants in a cycle where everyone seems to lose out.

Members of previous Parliaments will know that I have raised this issue many times, but the problem continues to grow worse. As I said, this is not a localised problem. If you are trying to get a small, one-bedroom apartment in the city at the moment, with no parking and no bells or whistles, you can expect to pay more than $800 a week and to line up with 100 others at inspections. Public housing waiting lists in Lake Macquarie have not changed since I last spoke about them in this place. They are amongst the longest lists in the State. This is due in part to the large numbers of people getting out of Sydney and Newcastle—apologies to the member for Newcastle, who is at the table—where housing is simply unaffordable to anyone earning an average wage. Currently, almost two families are joining that queue every day. I accept that we are now dealing with something of a perfect storm, but we are simply not opening enough umbrellas.

There are many contributing factors, but one of them is the growth of short-term holiday letting, which took an enormous amount of housing stock out of the long-term rental market. I warned the House about this possibility when it dithered on regulation of the short-term holiday letting industry several years ago. You cannot expect landlords or investors not to seek the maximum return on their investments, but you also cannot take that amount of long-term rental properties out of the market and not expect it to have a massive and dire impact on housing availability. We were behind the eight ball then and we are even further behind now. We simply have to find a way of building more homes.

We have to find a way to get more homes into the rental market. If that means providing incentives or assistance to private investors, we have to look at that. What we have been doing is not working. We cannot fix this housing emergency alone. All levels of government must work together to provide what is essentially a basic human right of every person in this State. As I have said before, the great Australian dream is now well beyond the reach of many people living in New South Wales, and might be better described as the great Australian failure. Worse, our levels of homelessness, our shortage of affordable and social housing, and our efforts to protect our most vulnerable have become the great Australian shame. We must work together to address this problem. We can, and must, do better.

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