THE Hunter's housing crisis has hit new heights as more suburbs creep up into the top ten worst affected areas in regional NSW.
A report prepared for Shelter NSW reveals the Hunter is now home to five out of the 10 local government areas with the highest housing need.
Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens have joined the list, along with Cessnock, Maitland, and Newcastle.
Shelter NSW chief executive officer John Engeler said the report 'raised the alarm' on behalf of regional people struggling to access secure, affordable and well-located housing.
"This is not just an academic exercise for us," Mr Engeler said, pointing to the upcoming election.
"Where is the commitment to make life more reasonable for renters? Where is the commitment by political parties seeking to form government to dramatically increase the stock of social and affordable housing for low-to-middle income people in regional towns and cities?"
The first report, released in 2021, provided a detailed and concerning picture of the key housing issues, he said. And while some local areas were delivering some "good projects", they were not on any kind of scale to make a real and lasting difference.
The score card relies on an index created by the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) using seven indicators to assess housing stress and vulnerability.
The report reveals there are nearly 6000 people on the social housing list waiting for a place in the Hunter's five worst affected government areas.
Shelter NSW Senior Policy Officer Cathryn Callaghan said that figure was likely to fall well short of the true number.
"There's a massive number of people who give up, who wait years and years and years and give up," Ms Callaghan said.
"The only people who get offered social housing within a few months or within a year are the most desperate people - people who are at imminent risk of homelessness, or who are homeless and escaping domestic violence. It's like a hospital triage system.
"If you are on the general wait list, that's where the 5-10 year waiting list comes from. You may be housed, but you are paying way too much as a percentage of your income on rent, or your house is overcrowded."
The score card takes into account the proportion of single-parent families, households with a mortgage, the proportion of low-income households experiencing mortgage stress, and the proportion of social housing stock in each area.
Shelter NSW has five asks of the new state government which include the removal of 'no grounds evictions' offering greater protection to renters, to increase specialist homelessness annual funding by 20 per cent, to restore the social housing safety net to 5 per cent by 2027 and 10 per cent by 2040, and to build more accessible and 'climate ready' dwellings.
The report's release follows the Housing Industry of Australia's warning this week of a continuing decline in the number of homes being built in 2023, attributed in part to interest rate rises, as well as supply issues and price hikes within the construction industry.
In response, the Property Council of Australia is calling on the next state government to crack down on housing targets and intervene when they are not being met, 'red carding' local councils which do not deliver.
Acting Executive Director Adina Cirson said more needed to be done to ensure all councils were delivering their fair share of additional housing supply.
"We are already 100,000 homes behind on existing targets", Ms Cirson said. "We can't afford to be limping to the finish line on housing supply.
"It's critical we shift our focus toward rewarding those local councils that deliver ... while red carding councils who refuse to share in the growth agenda of the state."
The other LGAs featuring in the top ten with the "highest housing need" (in rank order) were Bryon Shire, Central Coast, Coffs Harbour, Shellharbour, Tweed, and Wollongong.
Dr Kim Houghton, RAI Chief Economist, stated that the RAI's Regional Movers Index highlights that people are still voting with their feet and making regional Australia home.
"Reduced housing availability is being experienced now in many regions of NSW that have had little population growth over recent years.
"The regional housing boom started in coastal areas, but we are seeing people moving further inland sparked by rapid price growth along the coast.
"As housing pressures work their way to inland NSW it is likely that there will be a greater need for affordable and social housing in smaller regional places as well as the State's biggest cities," Dr Houghton noted.
Over decades Shelter NSW has observed the private housing market consistently failing low-medium income earners and governments of all levels stepping backwards.
"For all the talk of changing planning laws and busting red tape to free up private development - there is a larger mandate for Governments to step in, to use their power, land and resources to directly provide housing," Mr Engeler said.
"This coming March we encourage voters, and especially renters to demand change in what is clearly a fundamentally broken housing system".
IN THE NEWS:
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Join the discussion in the comment section below.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.