Housing is a fundamental human need because it provides security and a bedrock for raising a family, but to be able to access housing it needs to be affordable.
The Family & Life Office and the Social Justice Office of the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta organised and ran a Table Talk on Housing Affordability on the 19 August at the Institute for Mission in Blacktown. The night was an initiative formed in light of the Diocese’s connection with the Sydney Alliance. It gathered Catholics from across the Diocese to share their personal struggles in finding and buying a house, as well as the issues faced when renting. Jon O’Brien from UnitingCare NSW provided the statistics on the night.
House prices in Australia are the second most expensive in the world but the option to rent is limited, with a shortage of 539,000 rental properties.
The largest number of homeless Australians are in NSW. Unaffordable housing is clearly rife and it is the low income and disadvantaged who are wearing the costs. Social housing is in demand but people can be waiting for up to 10 years to secure a place to live.
One Catholic resident at the Table Talk shared the impacts unaffordable housing was having on her grandchildren, explaining that they had lived in 11 different rental properties just in the space of 10 years.
A young family also gave a glimpse into the issues surrounding renting for those with very young children, “We have to tell our kids to behave so the agent doesn’t think we’re going to destroy the house. The whole system is very hard for young families.”
Ben Smith, Director of the Family and Life Office, spoke on the night about why Catholics should care about housing affordability. “To be denied housing is to lose a sense of dignity and to lose a sense of hope,” he said. For those who attended the evening Table Talk, it was obvious that the personal stories were also very much a public story.
“As Catholics, we believe everyone is made in the image of God and has an inherent dignity. We believe families are of the utmost importance to our faith community, using the Holy Family as our guiding star.”
Affordable housing increases financial stress, leading many to work extensive hours. Pope Francis warned against this way of living the day before the event in his weekly general audience:
“When work separates itself from the covenant of God with man and woman, when it separates itself from their spiritual qualities, when it is hostage to the logic of only profit and scorns the attachments of life, the discouragement of the soul contaminates all: even the air, the water, the herbs, food.”
Sister Louise McKeogh FMA, Coordinator of the Social Justice Office, said that being a nun does not make housing affordability any less relevant to her, “My family couldn’t afford a lot and we lived on the outskirts of Melbourne. My dad was a builder. He built our house and he even built the Catholic School and Church I attended. He built a home for the whole community. I know what having a home means and why it is important. I also have four nieces and nephews who are all still at home and I can see the impacts on them.”
The night’s organisers made sure that the discussion led to practical engagement with the community. It highlighted key ‘asks’ that could be brought to politicians and others who have power to influence change.
The ‘asks’ on the night were:
1. For the NSW Government to commit to a formal plan, with numerical targets, to increase the supply of social and affordable housing in NSW over the next four years. The plan should be developed on a cross-portfolio basis within the NSW government and in partnership with the Federal Government.
2. For a new planning provision to be created for all new developers, building in 30% affordable housing at the seven Urban Growth precincts. Inclusionary zoning requires a given share of new construction to be affordable by people with low to moderate incomes.
The organisers also challenged those in attendance to commit to personal actions. Some of the actions included speaking to other parishioners, hosting more Table Talks and joining a delegation to speak to local Members of Parliament.
View photos from the night here: Flickr