The number of people waiting for public housing in Newcastle has grown by more than a third in just 12 months.
The NSW government data showed there were more people in the Hunter in need of homes on June 30 than there were the previous year.
The number of registered applicants on the waiting list in Newcastle rose from 1277 in 2021 to 1709 last year. This included 111 people considered "priority" - up from 89 the previous year.
In Maitland, the priority list more than doubled. There were 49 people on the list in 2021, which jumped to 101 last year.
The total number of people in need of a public housing property in Maitland was 816, up from 668 in 2021.
Allocation zones in Lake Macquarie also had more than 100 extra applicants each than the year before. The list grew from 460 to 662 in Lake Macquarie and from 343 to 458 in Lake Macquarie East.
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Home in Place spokesperson Martin Kennedy described the increases as "concerning".
"When you see a 25-30 per cent rise in year it's concerning, but not surprising," he said.
"There is a limited supply of private rentals. The vacancy rate has been at or below 1 per cent. People are having to pay six months in advance. When it's that competitive, a lot of people are going to miss out, and that tends to be people at the lower end of the income distribution.
"That's who ends up on social housing waiting lists."
Home in Place, formerly Compass Housing, manages about 6600 properties across NSW, 4000 of which are in the Hunter region.
"We are at full capacity all the time," Mr Kennedy said.
"In certain areas we're contracted to provide crisis accommodation as well, from which we are able to transfer people into something a little bit more long term, if and when they become available.
"But unfortunately, there's not really any sugarcoating the fact that the system is essentially at capacity, which is why we have waiting lists in the first place."
Danielle Whyte is the project manager of Our Backyard, a support service at Cardiff which helps people sleeping in their vehicles transition to permanent housing.
She said they looked at a variety of housing options, with people facing long wait times through the public system.
The expected waiting time for most forms of social housing across the Lower Hunter is between five and 10 years.
The shortest wait was for a one-bedroom home in Newcastle, estimated at two to five years.
"We can usually get them in [a home] within eight weeks, which is an amazing timeframe," Ms Whyte said.
"Whereas even if they're on a priority housing waiting list, you're still looking at a minimum of two years really before you can even get someone into social housing.
"And if you're dealing with families, it's just impossible.
"If you're looking at something that's more than a studio-one bedroom, when a lot of situations are a single parent with children, it's just a nightmare because there's just no housing stock as far as private rentals or social housing."
Ms Whyte said she did not expect to see the waiting list figures reduce in the near future. While the federal government has announced the National Housing Accord, which will deliver 10,000 affordable homes over five years, it doesn't start until 2024.
"So what do we do in the meantime?" Ms Whyte said.
"We've been crying out for 10 years that this is a massive issue. So it's just business as usual for us, nothing's really changed."
Mr Kennedy agreed.
"It's a problem that's been building up over decades," he said. "And it's not something that's probably going to get solved in a hurry."
"Increasing the supply of social housing is the fundamental thing that needs to happen. It sounds like a statement of the bleeding obvious, but it does seem to be something that has alluded policymakers for the better part of a couple of decades, so it probably bears repeating."
Mr Kennedy said the problem had gone beyond the capacity of the state government, with leadership from the Commonwealth needed through its Housing Australia Future Fund and providing incentives for the private market to invest.
"Both the NSW government and the federal government are investing in social housing, which is to their credit," Mr Kennedy said.
"But new homes take a while to get built and, unfortunately, quite a lot of people are getting get squeezed pretty hard in the meantime."
A NSW government spokesperson said its NSW Land and Housing Corporation would deliver a $50 million pipeline of about 140 homes for Hunter people in need over the next three years, which followed 50 completed social housing properties since June 2021.
The Department of Communities and Justice also assisted 475 households into social housing in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie local government areas over the past year.
"In Newcastle, we're working hand in hand with local council to prioritise housing delivery, including a $12 million joint investment in new social housing," the spokesperson said.
The investment with City of Newcastle is a first of its kind in fast-tracking priority housing projects and increasing delivery of social housing in the region.
Ms Whyte believes however that the issue stretches further than government.
"I think a lot of people just tend to sort of blame the government for where we're at today, and there are good reasons to do that," Ms Whyte said.
"However, that just creates this victim mentality and it doesn't actually change anything.
"I think if people are able to set prices on their investment properties that are affordable, that's a good place to start. But obviously, because of the markets and because of people's mortgages increasing, that's what increases rent prices as well.
"It needs to be looked at, at a total economic level."
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