Councils must do more to address housing crisis

Last week was Homelessness Week. It was also the week when the 76 homeless people sleeping in Martin Place were removed by the NSW Coalition government.

Sydney City Council has, at least, defended the “tent city” and taken a more pro-active role in trying to find solutions, compared with the NSW government which simply wants to wash its hands of this enormous problem.

“If one of the richest cities in a rich country cannot provide housing for those who are struggling, what does it say about the system's failures?” asked Pip Hinman, Socialist Alliance candidate for the Inner West Council, Stanmore Ward.

“According to Homeless Australia, there has been a 60% increase in people sleeping in cars and a 46% increase in couch surfing since 2012–13.

“Older women are the new face of this crisis: they form part of what is known as “hidden homelessness” — those who don't fit the stereotypical definition of homelessness as sleeping rough. They are the one in five people who couch surf with friends or family, or sleep in their car. This is not by choice, but because they have no safe and secure place to stay.

“If you add this to official estimates that more than 100,000 people are homeless, it makes a much more daunting figure.”

Susan Price, who is standing in Ashfield ward, said: “Meanwhile, experts tell us that there are tens of thousands of vacant dwellings in council areas across Sydney, including deceased estates, houses being developed for AirBNB, properties where the renter has moved out, among other variables.

“While state and federal governments bear the main responsibility, Socialist Alliance strongly believes that councils can and must do more to provide safe, affordable housing. We need a big increase in public housing to liberate housing from a speculators’ market.

“We need public housing on a scale that takes it beyond the grossly inadequate welfare housing it is now. Ordinary working people — let alone students and pensioners — cannot afford housing in Sydney today because wages have flatlined while rents and house prices keep going up.”

State and federal governments need to step up to this challenge but councils can do their share, added Blair Vidakovich, who is standing in Leichhardt ward.

“Capital funding for public housing under Commonwealth-state agreements has been in absolute decline for decades. This, and the state government's moves to eradicate public housing altogether, must be reversed. Rent caps must also be applied.

“Market-based solutions to crises caused by the market do not work. They just push up prices.

“Councils must actively support the immediate rehousing of homeless people in vacant dwellings; an end to speculators' tax rorts; and call for an end to negative gearing and land tax exemption arrangements. The billions saved can then be used to house those who need it.”

Hinman will be joining the “Newtopian Dream” on August 29, a "sleep out” organised by the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre to highlight the crisis of homelessness. The Newtown Neighbourhood Centre's affordable housing campaign is supporting the call for 15–30% of affordable housing to be included in all new developments.

“This is a good start, but more needs to be done”, Hinman said. “Councils should mandate at least 30% affordable housing in all new developments.”

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