Time and time again, Central Coast and Hunter residents have shared with me the difficulties they have endured in trying to secure affordable housing. Attaining housing across these regions has been a challenge for locals for quite some time. A report by Shelter New South Wales entitled New South Wales Regional Housing Need Report 2021 demonstrates just how severe the housing crisis has become. The report highlights the depth of the regional housing crisis by ranking local government areas by determining the number of people on the social housing waitlist, the proportion of social housing stock, along with those experiencing rental and mortgage stress. Sadly, the Central Coast was ranked the number one area of highest housing need in regional New South Wales. It also has the longest social housing waitlist in regional New South Wales—with 3,170 people on the general waitlist. The current wait time for social housing in the area is between five and 10 years.

A great number of Central Coast families are also suffering from rental and mortgage stress, despite the increased percentage of residents with a high average income. This may be because a great proportion of Central Coast households consist of single‑parent families, who face additional financial pressures. In addition, the cost of housing on the coast is high, making residents more vulnerable to increases in interest rates and increased rental demand. Within the Hunter region, the Lake Macquarie local government area was found to have the second longest waiting list for social housing in regional New South Wales. A staggering 2,488 people are currently on the general waitlist. Cessnock was ranked as the third highest area in need of housing, Newcastle was ranked fourth and Maitland was ranked seventh. Cessnock, Newcastle and Maitland also had high levels of households under rental or mortgage stress.

The average wait time for housing stock across the Hunter region is between five and 10 years. The Hunter region is also witnessing a growing number of older residents. This demographic is also vulnerable to increases in interest rates and housing prices because many older residents are retired and working less than they used to. Like the majority of Australians, the people of the Central Coast and the Hunter are currently enduring increased financial stress due to the rise in the cost of living. The cost of essential items such as groceries and fuel have skyrocketed over the past months, leaving people hundreds of dollars extra out of pocket each and every week. Given the fact that many residents also have suffered financially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise in the cost of living and the housing crisis are leading the people of the Central Coast and Hunter to absolute breaking point.

The Perrottet Government must take appropriate action now to prevent the Central Coast and Hunter housing crisis from worsening. The Government also must limit the financial burdens experienced by those residents. I am aware that the Government has released its Housing 2041 strategy and has committed to achieving an increased supply of affordable housing. It stated it would reach this goal through initiatives such as establishing a cross-sector expert housing advisory panel; maximising the impact of government-owned land and information to develop new housing types, tenures and delivery models; strengthening relationships with local governments, the community housing sector and private sector; and innovative housing solutions. The Housing 2041 strategy is a good starting point, but more action and investment are needed right now to address the housing crisis in the Hunter and Central Coast.

The Perrottet Government must provide support for renters, along with facilitating more residential land releases as a priority. The fact that those who can afford to rent simply cannot find a home and are being forced into homelessness is a damming indictment of the Liberal's housing policy over the past decade. This crisis simply must be addressed now. We cannot wait.