Housing, housing, housing … housing

6 Feb 2022 by Rev Andrew Smith in: Letters, Thoughts, News

Housing, housing, housing … housing

From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures

On returning from a month’s holidays a common theme in my first few days of work was housing.
I caught up with developments with Woden Valley Uniting Church and Queanbeyan Uniting Church as they consider next steps on their longer-term journeys of exploring and advancing possibilities and proposals for using church land to build needed housing as part of living out the mission of God.
I also joined in zoom worship with Tathra Uniting Church as they take early steps in discerning God’s call to use land at the site of the Bega Church building to develop affordable housing. The Scripture readings for the service came from Matthew chapter 25. We were encouraged to think about what the congregation might be called toward for the ‘least of these’, particularly in relation to the undersupply of housing in the Bega Valley, and what are the flasks and oil that we have to offer as we meet with God and God’s purposes.
As part of the service, we considered some of the key statistics from the draft Bega Valley Shire Affordable Housing Strategy (Oct 2021):

  • 19% of homes in the shire are used as weekenders, short-term letting or holiday accommodation – more than double the rate of regional NSW (9%).
  • Only 19% of occupied homes are privately rented, compared with 27% for NSW; only 3% are rented as social housing.
  • Of the renters across the Bega Valley, one third are experiencing rental stress.
  • Only 26% of local housing has two or less bedrooms; 64% of households were comprised of 1-2 people in 2016.

Conclusion: There is a significant and growing mismatch between housing supply and housing need in the LGA, which is likely to intensify over time unless there are active measures to increase the supply of smaller, more manageable dwellings near major town centres through the planning system.
Based on current and projected housing stress, housing market trends, and population and dwelling projections, there is a total projected need for almost 2,500 affordable dwellings by 2036. At least 75% of this need (1,750 households) is unlikely to be met through the market, and will need deep subsidies and/or the direct creation of affordable housing.
The inability of the market to provide for virtually all very low income renters, most low income renters, and many low income purchasers is noted, and is a particular focus of this Strategy. The growing number of homeless and marginally housed people in the LGA is also important.
The worship service also included the story of a local family’s recent struggle with housing. The story left us with the impression of the immense uncertainty that the family experienced around their rental accommodation. The story also highlighted the fear they held of rocking the boat too much with the Landlord about overdue repairs. If they pushed too hard, they might risk their lease being ended, and where would they go.
The Congregation is taking initial steps to discern what the possibilities might be for developing affordable housing on the vacant land around the Bega Church site, along with building a community on site that can connect tenants to Christian support, hope and love (through the use of the manse as a centre for mission). The local church's concern and action would help to shine a light on God's love and concern for the vulnerable in our society while practically providing pathways for community members to draw on each other and an onsite Community Chaplain, as they grow together as a community.
Just to the North of the Bega Valley the housing situation is fairly similar. The way that I encountered this in my first days back from leave is the pressing need to find housing for the Community Chaplain who is to be based in the vicinity of Narooma. This two-year placement is set to begin on 1 May as part of the church’s bushfire response, but without appropriate housing in place the role will be prevented from starting.
The rental market is very tight with very little housing stock available. You may be aware of the housing shortage from accounts of bush fire affected folk still without homes. The congregation at Mt Dromedary is reaching out through all its contacts to come up with some housing possibilities. With some folk from our Presbytery having this part of the Coast as a holiday destination, I’m keen to hear from anyone who is aware of housing for a couple that might be available for two years.