Having lived in social housing on Wollongong's Cliff Road for 20 years, Tony Butson knows all too well the stigma many attach to it.
"I was on a dating service," he said. "Because I always tell the truth, as soon as you mention Department of Housing, you're out. Women won't be interested.
"You start up a conversation with someone on the bus, and you say how lucky you are because your bus stops there, and I've got nowhere to walk to get home. All of a sudden, it's, 'oh, you live in Department of Housing - oh'. You are [viewed as] a second-class citizen."
While acknowledging the negative connotations - "we've had all sorts of people here - murderers, sellers, we've had everything" - the 69-year-old retiree said social housing was there when he needed a home.
"I was a bum on the street," he said. "I had places to live (in the short term), but after a while you've got nowhere. I was on the streets for a while."
He had to wait about five years to secure his current property.
"I was divorced, an alcoholic, and I was just enjoying life. I ended up in a rehab, and it was a welfare worker who said to me, 'you're going to need a place to live, have you ever thought about social housing?' She put my name down, and five years later [he moved in].
"I've had a lot of next door neighbours, I've been here 20 years."
Nowadays, he doesn't smoke, drink or do drugs.
"I came down for a two-week holiday in 1991, and I've been here ever since," he said. "I love it in Wollongong, it's the best."
Social housing includes public housing properties managed by the Department of Communities and Justice and the Aboriginal Housing Office, and community housing properties managed by not-for-profit, non-government registered community housing organisations.
According to the NSW government, in the Wollongong City allocation zone, the expected waiting time for a studio/one-bedroom unit through to a four-plus-bedroom social housing property was five to 10 years as of June 2019. Also, 1298 people were on the waiting list.
Michele Adair, CEO of the Illawarra-based community housing provider the Housing Trust, said the shortfall of social housing properties was now in excess of 3000 homes in the Illawarra.
"And that's only the number that we know, with people that are actually registered for social housing," she said.
She said there may be as many as a couple of thousand more not currently counted in the homelessness statistics or registered for social housing, due to reasons such as rough sleeping, or living in unsafe or unacceptable housing.
About 2500 people are living in Housing Trust properties in the Illawarra.
Ms Adair said about a third of their property portfolio are dwellings they manage on behalf of the Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC).
"Many of those were built in the '50s and '60s, and should be knocked down and rebuilt," she said.
"They were built at a time when we didn't think about light and ventilation.
"And they now require so much money to be spent on them to get them up to standard that it's better to relocate a tenant, (although) that assumes we've got somewhere to relocate them to.
"Often, many of those existing single dwelling social housing properties are on large blocks of land that would comfortably accommodate a duplex or sometimes even a couple of villas or a townhouse or two."
Ms Adair said the Illawarra, much like the rest of the state, was in the midst of a housing crisis - an issue sure to be exacerbated "when the first round of COVID support payments are either reduced or cut off completely".
"It's not the sole responsibility of the state government - we have to work together at both local and state government level, and with private industry and community housing involved," she said.
Meanwhile, Wollongong MP Paul Scully has accused the NSW government of asset stripping public housing.
According to Mr Scully, the Berejiklian government's 2019-20 record on social housing in the Wollongong LGA includes selling 15 dwellings, demolishing 25 dwellings and adding zero dwellings.
Mr Scully claimed this did not include those houses that had been boarded up and waiting for maintenance.
"It is an absolute disgrace that the government is asset stripping public housing stock in Wollongong and not made any new stock available over the last 12 months in a city that ranks among the least affordable in the country," he said.
"Every day I am contacted by local residents who have waited years for social housing, and are still waiting."
The government has previously noted that 26 Housing NSW residential units were committed for the 2019/20 financial year, but had not been completed as at May 31.
An LAHC spokesperson said in May, the NSW government announced two major projects valued at $36 million to deliver 100 new social, affordable and private homes, at Robert Street, Corrimal and Crown Street, Wollongong. The spokesperson said construction on the Corrimal project commenced on-site in July, while a DA for the Crown Street site is expected to be lodged before the end of this year.
"Also during 2019/2020, LAHC committed to build eight new social homes at Blackman Parade, Unanderra, which are currently under construction.
"LAHC is currently working on a number of social housing projects to provide around 75 new social housing dwellings in the area at Unanderra, Berkeley, Port Kembla and Warrawong.
"During 2019/20, the NSW Land and Housing Corporation committed to build eight new social housing dwellings at Unanderra ... A further 18 dwellings, at Towradgi, were due in 2019/20 but these have been delayed after community feedback."