Recent calls by Gladys Berejiklian and Scott Morrison to slow the migration intake into Sydney and NSW has prompted a coalition of housing groups – from welfare agencies to the developer lobby – to hit back, claiming that focusing on migration rates deflects from what governments should be doing.
The so-called Good Growth Alliance will push for a housing summit to be held within 100 days of the March election, to help re-set the state’s policies on housing and planning, which the Alliance claims has been derailed into a discussion about whether or not Sydney is full.
“A – Sydney’s not full,” said Jane Fitzgerald, the executive director of the Property Council NSW.
“B – if we say that it is, we won’t plan for growth, and that will be a disaster,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
Wendy Hayhurst, the chief executive of the Community Housing Industry Association, said in the past her group would probably not have joined forces with the range of other entities in the Alliance.
“We would have ploughed our own furrows,” said Ms Hayhurst.
However the organisations have been drawn together in response to suggestions made recently by both the Premier and the Prime Minister that one solution to Sydney’s congestion growing pains would be to slow migration rates.
“What I'm looking at is who is winning in this argument – it’s not you, and it's not me,” said Ms Hayhurst. “The government is actually abrogating its responsibilities to plan Sydney properly.”
The proposal for a post-election summit is one of ten points agreed upon by Alliance members, who also include Shelter NSW, Homelessness NSW, the Committee for Sydney and the Sydney Business Chamber.
Other points agreed on by the groups include the need to deliver at least 5000 extra social housing dwellings per year for the next 10 years, establishing a goal of ending homelessness in NSW by 2028, and conducting an inquiry into funding for community infrastructure, including developer contributions.
In relation to social or public housing for low-income tenants, the government’s Social and Affordable Housing Fund aims to create about 3400 new dwellings, with a seed-funding of $1.1 billion.
But group members said the size of the problem outweighed the program. For instance, a recent study by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute found that there is a shortage in Sydney of 80,000 social housing properties, and 56,000 shortage across the rest of the state.
Ms Fitzgerald said a “large-scale social housing program” would be useful during a period in which the residential property market has hit the wall in Sydney.
“Now is the right time to make decisions about how are we going to keep housing being delivered through the downturn,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
Ms Hayhurst said the government’s existing program was “nowhere near enough” for the size of the social housing need.
For the housing groups that have joined the Alliance, one of the problems with the recent rhetoric about slowing population growth is that it obscures the need for state and council politicians and public servants to talk to communities about where extra housing in Sydney should be delivered.
Mr Morrison has said he would cut the migration intake, partly on the basis that Sydney’s roads, buses and trains are “clogged” or “full”. Ms Berejiklian has said population growth in NSW should “take a breather”.
Asked on Sunday what she would say to critics concerned that blaming population growth for problems in Sydney deflected attention from what her government should be doing, Ms Berejiklian said: “I would be irresponsible if I did not identify the issues that matter to our communities.
“People are concerned about the character of their environments, people are concerned about their quality of life moving forward, and so am I,” she said.
A spokesman for Planning and Housing Minister Anthony Roberts said the minister would be keen to hear from and talk to the Good Growth Alliance.