Rising interest rates, cost of living pressures and election promises to support those struggling are likely to dominate the news cycle throughout 2023 and into next year.
When the average rent for a threebedroom home within the Hunter is $550 per week (SQM Research), and the Department of Communities and Justice advise the social housing waitlist in NSW has over 50,000 people on it - it’s easy to see why these issues are at the forefront of many people’s minds, including the leaders of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
It is in this challenging context the Diocese has established a new entity, Hunter Community Housing (HCH), which reinforces its strong commitment to reducing homelessness by expanding its social, affordable and disability housing portfolio.
Jessica Bentley is the General Operations Manager for HCH, which was approved as a Tier Two community housing provider by the National Regulatory System Community Housing (NRSCH) in November.
“To know that such a basic need is really hard to come by at the moment and to be able to assist people to fill this gap is a privilege,” Ms Bentley said.
“There is a huge need in our local area. Even before the Diocese launched Hunter Community Housing, we were seeing people come to us out of desperation.
“Being a new provider in this space, we certainly don’t have a waitlist program feeding an endless supply of housing but the Diocese has ambitious plans for a suite of housing developments at locations across the region.”
Ms Bentley said many people took for granted the fortunate housing position they were in but that could change very quickly if illness or retrenchment struck.
“A job lost, an accident that limits someone’s ability to work – the reality is that many households in the Hunter are a pay period or two away from being in really difficult circumstances. I’m really passionate about assisting people to find affordable, safe housing. We can be a part of that hope for the future.”
Ms Bentley said that providing affordable leases was the agency’s primary goal but putting a roof over people’s heads was not its sole focus.
“Stable housing plays a critical role in helping people but that’s not always enough. Our wrap-around supports look at the whole person connecting our tenants with relevant services and supports,” she said.
HCH tenants have access to a wide range of services offered by the Diocese including; social support through CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning; training and pathways to employment offered by St Nicholas Pathways; and access to education and childcare services through its many schools and early education centres.
“Many providers need to refer tenants to other organisations for support services – things like financial counselling, a psychologist or even property maintenance,” Ms Bentley said.
“However, we’re able to refer in-house to our Diocesan partners and they can also refer to us as well, which leads to a quicker response time. Of course, our clients have choice but we have those internal pathways if needed.”
Maree Bird is the Young Adult Services Manager of CatholicCare’s Supported Independent Living (SIL) program, which supports young people who have previously been in foster care as they transition to adulthood by providing them with case management, life skills development, and accommodation.
Ms Bird said she had witnessed the toll struggling to secure affordable accommodation was having on our community’s most vulnerable, including young people.
“Accessing affordable housing has been a serious issue over many years, but it has significantly worsened in recent years with low vacancy rates in the private rental market leading to skyrocketing rental prices and leaving many people homeless,” she said.
Countless studies indicate that people who do not have access to stable accommodation also experience flowon impacts in other aspects of their life including employment, health, and general wellbeing. This is particularly true for young people who have little to no leasing or employment history behind them.
“We’re excited by the launch of Hunter Community Housing,” Ms Bird said.
“Greater access to affordable housing will help so many in our community to get a strong footing and this can change their entire trajectory in life.”
Webster* is one of HCH’s first tenants, securing his tenancy with the support of CatholicCare’s SIL program. Webster knew securing stable accommodation would be a challenge but was supported through the process by CatholicCare and their referral pathway to Hunter Community Housing.
“It was such a relief,” Webster said of being offered accommodation in Mayfield. “I was able to get a house basically straight away.”
With a stable roof over his head, Webster has just started a new job.
“It’s been tough transition, but I’ve been grateful for the support and my job is going great.”
*Name changed to protect identity
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