Win! Funding for social housing and renters energy upgrades

Sydney Alliance Win: $175 M for energy upgrades in Social Housing and $30 M to support renters to access clean energy and reduce cost of energy bills

The Federal and NSW governments are investing $206 million in energy savings for social housing properties in NSW and a solar scheme to reduce cost-of-living and climate impacts for those most impacted. We were represented by Uniting Church Synod of NSW.ACT Moderator Rev Mata Havea Hiliau and Uniting General Manager of Advocacy Emma Maiden.

This reflects the possibility for climate solutions to tackle cost of living AND help leave the planet in better condition for future generations. This is what we want to see more of! 

This is the outcome of tireless campaigning by the Sydney Alliance and its partner organisations – two of which are Uniting and the Uniting Church!

Read the Sydney Alliance statement below

Sydney Alliance, a coalition of community organisations, unions, religious organisations and schools, has applauded the announcement that the NSW Government has committed $87.5 million funding for social housing energy upgrades, matching the investment commitment made by the Commonwealth Government, and welcomes $30 million federal funding to support renters to access solar panels or plots for community solar gardens.

The Alliance made energy upgrades to social housing a key part of our election asks going into the NSW election in March last year. Today’s announcement is an important step for all residents in NSW as the government has recognised and acted on the need for more energy efficient homes to reduce the cost of living and provide better standards around climate resilient homes.

For 8 years the Sydney Alliance ‘Voices for Power’ campaign has highlighted the need for access to a ‘solar garden’ community energy plot for low-income households, which will be funded as part of the federal government’s commitment to energy upgrades.

Co-Lead Organiser of Sydney Alliance, Cat Coghlan said, “Many homes in our state were built without minimum building and energy standards including the social housing stock. This means that those homes are the least energy efficient and therefore the most expensive to run, yet people in those homes are the ones who can least afford and who can benefit most from energy upgrades and renewable energy”

“Expanding access to upgrades like solar power, reverse cycle air conditioning and insulation will make a measurable difference for low-income homes by bringing down energy bills and making it easier and more affordable to keep our homes cool in summer and warm in winter. The Alliance’s advocacy over many years today bears fruit for vulnerable people in our communities who will benefit from lower bills and healthier homes”, Ms Coghlan said.

Multiple Sydney Alliance partner organisations have also welcomed today’s announcement:

Uniting Church Synod of NSW.ACT Moderator, Rev Faaimata (Mata) Havea Hiliau said: “The cost-of-living crisis is hugely impacted by the cost of energy in Australia and is a clear demonstration of just how bad things can get when we don’t act meaningfully to tackle our climate and energy challenges. 

“In 2023 we saw temperature records smashed, last September was the hottest September on record, following the hottest August and hottest July globally – ever. Our homes and cities are ill-equipped to deal with what is fast becoming the ‘new abnormal’ of extreme weather conditions, and those who can least afford it are disproportionately impacted by this global heating. Anything to reduce these impacts on the vulnerable and the disadvantaged in our community are welcomed,”
Rev Mata said.

United Workers Union’s NSW Secretary and National Director, Mel Gatfield, said the federal and NSW state government were to be applauded for prioritising the needs of the most vulnerable at a time when cost of living is at a crisis.

“Climate Change is Union Business. Workers in Australia are on the frontlines of the climate crisis and United Workers Union members are already dealing with the impacts of a changing climate. UWU members tell me every day how stressed they are, paying for power bills, living and working in hot buildings in summer and cold buildings in winter. Without government help, people will continue to suffer at the hands of an energy system that is more focused on profit than people”, Ms Gatfield said.

Yolanda Saiz, St Vincent de Paul Society NSW CEO, said, “We welcome this announcement by the NSW and Federal Governments that will help to improve the living standards of thousands of people in social housing across the state. Soaring energy bills remain a significant cause of hardship for people seeking assistance from the Society each year. Today’s announcement by the NSW and Federal Governments will provide cost of living relief and greater liveability for households going forward”.

Heidi Lee Douglas, Solar Citizens CEO said, “Solar Citizens welcomes the announcement today of a $206 million investment in social housing energy upgrades by the Federal and NSW governments which is a positive step towards reducing the bills for the state’s social housing tenants.

“Solar Citizens has been alongside the community sector in calling for this and we’d like to see this initial investment expanded to include a plan and timeline to deliver rooftop solar for all suitable social housing properties. 

“Electrification and rooftop solar are effective ways to slash energy bills and address the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Rolling out rooftop solar on social housing can save low-income households an average $860 per year, while also contributing cheap, clean energy back to the grid and providing and providing cheaper electricity for everyone. Adding batteries with storage orchestration offers additional grid security benefits for the energy grid, bringing bills down further.”

Sweltering Cities Executive Director, Emma Bacon said, “The policy choices we make on housing and energy efficiency now will decide how many people die in the deadly heatwaves of our future. This funding is a good step towards helping low income families manage their health as summers get hotter. Too many people in Western Sydney tell us that they can’t afford to keep cool, so it’s essential that we deliver solar access and energy efficiency measures that will keep bills down.”

CEO of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Jacqui Mumford said, “We welcome this important commitment to ensuring the shift to a renewable future benefits those most in need. It’s great to see the Government drawing the link between cost of living and climate crises.

It’s too often been the case that the huge reduction in power bills that can be gained from renewable energy and household energy efficiency measures are inaccessible to those in need. Across NSW renters and people living in public and social housing are stuck paying more for polluting energy and some of the most inefficient housing in Australia.

One thing missing from this announcement is a plan to phase out new gas connections, as we’ve seen in Victoria. This simple measure would cost the government nothing, reduce the risk of asthma for kids, cut emissions, and save renters and people living in social and public housing hundreds of dollars a year in electricity bills.”

Executive Director of Better Renting, Joel Dignam said, “This is a welcome response to cost of living pressures that are hitting renters and people on low incomes worst of all.”

“Today’s joint commitment from the NSW and Commonwealth governments will help reduce energy bills while making it easier for people who rent to have comfortable, healthy homes. Better Renting has heard from countless renters across NSW who deal with mould, excessive heat in summer, and freezing homes in winter. This program will fund basic retrofits to help make homes liveable and cheaper for the inhabitants.” 

There is still more that must be done to expand access to the benefits of energy transition and to lower the cost of energy bills across our communities, especially for private renters and linguistically diverse communities. Sydney Alliance is calling for mandatory minimum energy standards for existing rental properties and the need for a Mobile Community Energy Hub with access to independent advice to lower energy bills, primarily for culturally and linguistically diverse communities across Sydney.

Sydney Community Forum’s Executive Officer, Asha Ramzan said, “The climate and cost of living dual crises are not felt equally in our society. Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, who are predominantly concentrated in Western Sydney, struggle to access clear, unbiased information about the steps they can take to reduce their energy bills and access initiatives designed to support them in the energy transition”.