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Every Sunday as Sue and I traverse the Cahill Express on our way to church, I glance to the left and take in the view – ferries swirling around Circular Quay, the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and the magnificent Sydney Opera House. I will often comment that we will never live in a more beautiful city. No offence Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane – but I reckon that’s objectively true.

But as we’ve learned these last three years, Sydney is not simply one city, but a number. For example, living in the Sutherland Shire is a very different experience to living in the Hills district, as is living in the Eastern Suburbs different to life in South Western Sydney. But there are experiences common to all Sydneysiders, no matter where we live – most especially, right now, the shortage of affordable housing.

Since moving to Sydney I’ve subscribed to The Sydney Morning Herald, wanting to get a good read on the culture and issues impacting our new home. What’s striking about the Herald is its consistent obsession with two topics – schools (particularly private schools) and property prices. Honestly, I reckon the paper would be at least 20 per cent smaller if not for blanket coverage of these two issues. Sydney’s obsession with property wealth was illustrated starkly in this headline over the weekend:

‘Billionaire’s heiress triples her money on $18m weekender’ 

Honestly, I almost vomited into my Weeties cereal when I read this sentence. For me, with a brevity of words, it encapsulates the perverse and growing inequity of our housing market, not just here in Sydney, but across the nation. I could bore you with the stats – suffice to say, our housing system is broken, the impact of which is spiralling rents, plummeting rental vacancies, growing homelessness (most of it hidden), intergenerational wealth inequity and mortgage stress. By far the two number one, joined-at-the-hip issues Australians name unprompted are the cost of living and housing affordability concerns. I know many, if not most of you, will resonate with this personally.

Today, Wednesday 24 April, I will be interviewed by officials from the Reserve Bank, as part of their wider review of the economic impacts being experienced in the community. In preparation, Lisa, Head of Wesley Community Housing and her team provided me with some stats and observations, including: 

  • Increasing numbers of people are contacting our Wesley Community Housing team for support/housing, many of whom have not interacted with services like ours in the past. These include key workers and the ‘forgotten middle’ (people who have always been able to afford their rent or food). 
  • In September 2023 we were housing six per cent of our applications. In March 2024 it is now at three per cent. 
  • In August 2023 we had 315 applicants on our waiting list, as of March 2024 we have 417. 

Our Housing Team, and the wraparound services that support the people they serve, do an amazing, ‘off the charts’ job. I am so grateful. But these and other stats and observations, as well as what we are seeing in the broader community, demand more of us – in two ways specifically.

First, we must double down on bringing our voice to the call for systemic, root and branch reform of the housing sector. Tinkering around the edges won’t cut it. Magnifying our voice through campaigns like ‘Everybody’s Home’ will continue to be critical. Second, consistent with our strategic plan growth priorities, we must play our (small but significant) part in being part of the solution by expanding our Wesley Community Housing portfolio. That’s why projects like RJ Williams in Glebe, soon to commence construction, we hope, are so vital – providing 39 desperately needed homes.

It’s no overstatement to say that what we do as a nation right now in addressing the housing crisis will determine the nation we are in the future. The same is true for us at Wesley Mission. In 1819 we built Sydney’s first ‘homeless shelter’. My hope and prayer is we will continue to serve our city and state by building homes for individuals and families in desperate need of one of the most basic of human needs – safe and secure housing. 

Rev Stu Cameron
CEO and Superintendent, Wesley Mission

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