Sydney's affordable housing shortage leading to 'informal' housing

A new report released by the Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney has found low income and vulnerable groups are being forced into informal housing arrangements, such as share accommodation.

Co-author of the report Professor Nicole Gurran from the University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning said chronic shortage of social and affordable housing meant some people were forced to live in share accommodation, sometimes in severely overcrowded situations that contravene planning building regulations.

"Sydney's ongoing housing affordability crisis is hitting low income and vulnerable groups particularly hard, they are now having to find accommodation through informal and sometimes illegal housing," Professor Gurran said.

"These types of arrangements can go undetected and hidden from residential tenancy data as it isn't easily captured."

Informal housing can include illegally constructed, converted or occupied dwellings, as well as informal rental arrangements not subject to standard residential tenancy agreements, including share housing and room rentals.

The report found affordability pressures have been further compounded by the loss of traditional sources of low-cost rental accommodation, such as boarding houses. Low income earners and those without rental history, such as recent migrants, faced particular barriers to accessing affordable rental accommodation through the private market.

Data from the Family and Community Services suggests there are 271,000 lower income households in rental stress in metropolitan Sydney. Australian Housing & Urban Research Institute data shows a further 130,000 households in NSW are unable to access affordable rental accommodation.

This report focused on households in Waverley and Fairfield local government councils where over 18 percent of households spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

"Local councils and housing advocates are at the front line of Sydney’s informal housing system. Major policy reform is needed to reduce demand for informal housing types that present health or safety risks and offer inadequate privacy or tenure security," Professor Gurran said.

A number of strategies were identified in the report to help ease rental affordability pressure and provide more appropriate accommodation options for those at the “bottom” of the housing market, including:

  • increasing the supply of affordable rental accommodation in locations of high unmet housing need

  • addressing the barriers to accessing the formal system experienced by lower income and vulnerable groups

  • improve awareness of rights and support available to people living in informal housing arrangements

"This research shines a light on a part of Sydney' s housing market which doesn't get the attention it deserves. We need to have a good hard look at the ways people are surviving our housing crisis, and the impact it is having on them and their families," said Leo Patterson Ross, Senior Officer at the Tenants Union of NSW.

"Such partnerships in research are vital to really understand what is going on beneath the surface of our formal systems. Working with those at the frontline - in local government and housing advocacy - has made us aware of the challenges faced and the need for concerted efforts to understand and provide solutions," said co-author of the report Dr Madeline Pill from the University of Sydney.

This scoping study was developed in collaboration with Fairfield City Council, Waverley Council and the Tenants Union of NSW and funded by the University of Sydney’s Policy Lab.

The full report is available here.

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