NSW Housing Strategy – more “homework” needed to fix our broken housing market

In 2020, Shelter NSW was pleased to see the NSW Government embark on the development of NSW’s first 20-year housing strategy.  In our submission we commended the Government for tackling the task. But we added a reminder – that Government has a unique capability and responsibility to ensure that the resulting strategy was more than a compilation of a myriad of many ‘good ideas’ – more than a ‘Housing’s Greatest Hits’ if you like. 

We wanted to see a clear, long-term commitment to large, well-funded, high priority approaches that would produce a demonstrable difference for people and communities.

We hoped to see targets, numbers and dollar signs – not just words, schematics and pictures.

This week we saw the final product of the Government’s consultation: Housing 2041 – NSW Housing Strategy. So what do we think of it?

Our media release provides our headline response. While we think it’s a good start towards an integrated, long-term plan to solve the state’s most demanding housing problems – it has unfortunately, stopped short of setting out the key targets and game-changing actions and funding that will drive significant change. In other words – lots of words, plenty of schematics and diagrams but not enough clear, measurable targets with numbers and dollars attached to them (though there is a state budget around the corner…). 

Before we set out the highlights of Housing 2041, here’s a reminder of the key things we advocated for in our submission.

In July 2020, Shelter NSW called on the NSW Government to:

  • establish clear long-term targets and metrics regarding homelessness; affordability; accessibility and diversity; and resilience of housing in NSW. 
  • elevate ‘housing affordability’ to a Premier’s Priority, signalling a whole-of-government focus, especially targeting improvements for the lowest 40% of income earners.
  • recognise ‘housing’, and especially social and affordable housing, as ‘infrastructure’ – accounted for and funded alongside other state capital investments such as roads, water and transport infrastructure.
  • commit to a significant increase in the supply of social and affordable housing.
  • apply the planning system to create greater housing choice in regional centres (encouraging clustering dwelling patterns or medium density development in town centres).
  • review housing design and planning rules to create smaller, more compact (and more affordable) well-designed homes.
  • review the ‘discount to market’ rent setting policies to ensure affordable housing arrangements are in fact meeting affordability requirements.
  • further reform NSW tenancy arrangements so that renting becomes a more feasible and secure longer-term housing proposition.
  • strengthen regulation of informal and marginal housing such as boarding houses, share or lodging arrangements.
  • improve the environmental sustainability of new and existing housing by raising building and maintenance standards.
  • assist all NSW residents to gain access to affordable renewable energy.

Housing 2014 – how does it stack up?

Things we like –

  • acknowledgment of the strength and potential of the NSW Government’s own agencies and assets to deliver more social and affordable housing.  The NSW Government has large, asset-rich agencies like Landcom and the Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) and land at its disposal. 
    It was great to see the NSW Government recognise that it has a big and unique role to play. 
  • commitment to more transparent data, research and evidence.
  • an honest account of NSW’s housing problems – whether it be chronic rental stress, homelessness or the degree to which the planning system is NOT delivering Affordable Housing.
  • establishment of a government land registry. (Shelter NSW has previously called for greater transparency in the form of an audit of government land).
  • commitment to convene an expert housing advisory panel and housing strategy implementation unit.
  • acknowledgement of the need for collaboration by the Government, private and not-for-profit community housing sectors.
  • investigation of new sources of sustainable funding for Affordable Housing.
  • review of NSW Government key worker housing provisions (what of other key workers?).
  • (notwithstanding our comments about ‘good ideas’….) good ideas in the housing sector are better than ‘bad ideas’. The Action plan document in particular sets out a number of worthy projects and reforms currently underway (such as the Build-to-Rent changes; Boarding House reform; stamp duty reform and building energy efficiency improvements) and programs worth exploration. The ‘temporary supportive accommodation’ (often known as ‘meanwhile use’) proposal is worth consideration for example.

Things that worry us – 

  • the invitation for private sector to pitch innovative ideas for the use of public land.  We hope that the same spirit of transparency touted in the land registry proposal will flow through to the consideration of potential proposals from the private sector. 
    Government land is public land. We’re seeking assurances that the long-term public interest is defended; especially when it comes to protecting public housing.
  • expert housing advisory panel and implementation unit – who will sit on it and what interests will they represent?
  • the absence of clear data describing the degree of unmet demand for social and affordable housing in NSW (and the long-term declines in stock versus population growth). This is readily available yet absent from the strategy.
  • the absence of clear targets to drive a dramatically increased stock of social and affordable housing dwellings in NSW.

All in all, we generally share the NSW Government’s vision, that (by 2041) NSW will have housing that supports security, comfort, independence and choice for all people at all stages of their lives. But in the absence of clear and compelling metrics and funding to drive substantial change and reform – we wonder how we will know when we get there, beyond looking at the calendar.

More reading:
For a full review of what we said last July please refer to the July 2020 Shelter NSW submission to the NSW Housing Strategy.
For observations of the Housing 2041 Strategy by Hal Pawson and Vivienne Milligan from UNSW in the Fifth Estate this week.
For an interesting read from May 2018 about the extent to which NSW is overselling its social housing commitment | The Fifth Estate by Hal Pawson from the City Futures Research Centre.
For updated data on how the stock of social housing is tracking, check out our Shelter NSW 2021 Pre-Budget-Submission. Refer Appendix D.