Housing is a job changer

Nurses are enduring inflated house prices, exorbitant rents, and increasingly long commutes.

Thirty six per cent of NSWNMA members moved home or changed jobs in the previous 12 months because of housing affordability issues, a union survey shows.

Forty nine per cent of members said housing affordability was very important to them to the extent that they would be prepared to change jobs so they could live in a more affordable area.

Fewer than three per cent of members said they did not consider the price of housing when applying for jobs.

Around 1,000 members responded to the survey designed to gauge the impact of rising house prices and rents.

Sydney house prices climbed almost 19 per cent in the 12 months to March, according to CoreLogic RP Data.

NSWNMA general secretary, Brett Holmes, said the lack of affordable housing was having a major impact on Sydney nurses in particular.

“Limited affordable housing is pushing nurses and midwives to move further away from the hospitals and services they work in and locking them into long commutes,” he said.

“It is causing difficulties in recruiting and retaining nursing staff.”

Of those who answered the survey, 64.5 per cent were renting compared to 24.5 per cent who were homeowners. Just over seven per cent lived with their parents.

Affordable housing needed for essential workers

The NSWNMA’s 2016 annual conference adopted a position statement on affordable housing, which noted that rents in many areas are increasing at twice the rate of inflation.

“Housing affordability is a major concern for many nurses and midwives in many areas, including metropolitan, rural and regional areas, where the income of the household is not sufficient to pay market rent close to where they work,” the statement noted.

“Public policy and planning must address the need for affordable housing for all essential workers.”

The Sydney Olympic Park master plan 2030 (2016 Review) is an example. The area’s residential dwellings are planned to increase from 6,350 to 10,700.

Three per cent of apartments are to be set aside for essential services workers (police, teachers and nurses) who work exclusively or predominately at Sydney Olympic Park.

Rents will be set at 74.9 per cent of the market rate and applicants must pass a means test.

The NSWNMA has written to the Sydney Olympic Park Authority urging it to increase the three per cent target and expand the eligibility criteria to include key workers, such as nurses, midwives and aged care staff working at nearby facilities.

“Sydney Olympic Park is well situated near many hospitals including Concord, Westmead, Ryde, St John of God Burwood and Auburn hospitals, and many aged care facilities,” the submission says.

“Increasing the percentage of affordable housing in the master plan will greatly assist assistants in nursing, enrolled nurses, registered nurses and midwives and other key workers to live in the communities where they provide essential services.”

Thwarted by investors

Martin Good might be considered a relatively fortunate participant in Sydney’s daunting house-hunting stakes.

The 44-year-old clinical nurse specialist had sufficient funds to put down a deposit on an apartment when he set out to buy a property not too far from his workplace at Royal North Shore Hospital.

But each time he found a suitable place he was outbid by a property investor.

“I looked at properties for almost two years; it was doing my head in,” Martin said.

“I was beaten by investors 10-15 times.  It was very disheartening.

“I knew they were investors because a lease sign would go up outside the property immediately after it was sold.”

Obtaining finance was another obstacle

“My mortgage broker was shopping around for months to try to get me a loan.  Most of the banks will not factor in penalty rates, when deciding how much to lend you. They use your base rate which in my case was probably $25,000 less than my actual wage.”

Martin was forced to take out a loan jointly with his father, an ambulance worker, in order to meet bank requirements.

In January, he finally secured an apartment about half an hour’s drive from work.

“Even though I’m paying it back myself I had to get dad involved otherwise no bank was going to lend me enough.

“The alternative was to rent, which would have cost me almost as much as I pay on the mortgage.

“And you can’t set your life up when you’re renting and having to move every year.

“High-rise apartment blocks are going up near the hospital because they are building a new train line in. Prices are prohibitive – you would be lucky to get a two-bedroom flat for under seven figures and you have to have a 20 per cent deposit.”

Martin supports the union’s call for authorities to set aside affordable housing for nurses and other essential service workers such as ambulance staff and police.

The ordeal of finding affordable housing in Sydney is a common talking point among RNSH nurses, he says,

“People talk about it a lot more than they did even five or six years ago. A lot of our staff travel an hour and a half to work every day, from as far away as the Blue Mountains and Central Coast. They would prefer to live closer to work but can’t afford to.

“Some of our nurses have had to leave the hospital because they can no longer afford to live in Sydney. So they try to get a job in a town with affordable housing.

“I’ve written a few references for RNSH people seeking jobs in areas where they can afford to buy or rent.”

Minister admits nurses and midwives need housing help

The pressure from organisations like the NSWNMA and the Sydney Alliance on affordable housing seems to be working. NSW minister of Housing, Hon. Anthony Roberts MP,  has conceded essential workers like nurses need government assistance to find housing close to their jobs.

“Key worker housing is critical for our com-munities of the future,” Mr Roberts told the ABC.

“I don’t want nurses travelling an hour and a half to go to their shift at Royal North Shore [Hospital] from the central coast.

“We’ll make it a key priority of this government to make sure we have our teachers, our nurses, our ambos, our firies, and our police officers having the opportunity to live and work within the communities they serve.”

The next Sydney Alliance assembly to discuss affordable housing will be held on 20 July.