The Canterbury, Fairfield, Merrylands, Guildford, Strathfield, Burwood and Ashfield areas have very high levels of overcrowding, affecting between 46 and 92 people per 10,000, while other parts of south-west and western Sydney – including Blacktown, Parramatta, Bankstown and Hurstville – have high rates.
The lowest levels of overcrowding – affecting between zero and 10 people per 10,000 – are found in parts of Sydney including Sutherland, Canada Bay, the eastern beaches, northern suburbs and Hills district.
“Having a safe, affordable and appropriate home has shown to be critical to reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Ms McKernan said. “Unfortunately, the lack of affordable housing in south-western and western Sydney is currently contributing to the increase in COVID cases in those areas.”
But thousands of people are spending between five and 10 years waiting for housing. Chief executive of the Community Housing Industry Association NSW, Mark Degotardi, said those families were living in overcrowded housing, couch-surfing or scraping by.
Most recent figures show there are 3821 people waiting for housing in Fairfield, 2588 in Liverpool, 2462 in Bankstown, 2097 in Parramatta and Baulkham Hills, 1673 in Penrith and 1295 – including the Myats – in Blacktown.
“With COVID-19 infections on the rise, the lack of affordable housing has dire public health consequences,” Mr Degotardi said. “Economic insecurity and crowded living situations make it impossible for families to slow the spread when they’re struggling to keep a roof over their head.
“The state government must take a lesson from this and focus on a sustainable, long-term strategy to get these families off the waitlist and into safe housing.”
Ms Myat has been waiting six years for a two-bedroom place. Simon Winya, a project officer at SydWest Multicultural Services who assists the family, thinks they should be given priority; Ms Myat arrived in Australia on a “women at risk” humanitarian visa but has a back injury that prevents her working. She has no family in Australia or social support network, and struggles with language barriers.
But they’ve had no luck moving up the list. “We know there are limitations, there’s small amount of housing. But there are vulnerable women, on low incomes or fleeing domestic violence – they need help,” Mr Winya said.
”She’s by herself, they don’t have space to have dinner or do anything during the lockdown. The government needs to be aware – people like her should have been offered housing a long time ago.“
More broadly, Mr Winya said large family sizes, low incomes and the unavailability of affordable property meant many people in the region were struggling. “A lot of families are facing a significant amount of stress,” he said.
Ms McKernan said the government needed to see affordable housing as “critical community infrastructure fundamental to the health of all” and create 5000 properties each year for the next 10 years to meet demand. “If we can’t act on providing affordable housing now when it is the primary response to keeping people safe from COVID-19 and will help the economy, then when?“
Stay across the most crucial developments related to the pandemic with the Coronavirus Update. Sign up to receive the weekly newsletter.