Labor would invest $500 million to fix broken dunnies and roofs in public housing complexes around Australia to boost jobs during COVID-19, opposition leader Anthony Albanese said.
Ahead of his budget reply speech on Thursday, Mr Albanese said public and social housing was the "low-hanging fruit" in terms of creating jobs for tradies, amid the coronavirus downturn.
There was a maintenance backlog of around 100,000 homes across the country, which could provide work to sparkies, plumbers and other tradies whose work had dried up due to the pandemic.
"There are so many Australians who live in social housing who have leaky roofs, who have problems with their dunny, problems with their kitchen. Frankly, if it was an MP's office, they'd be fixed in a week. We are missing an opportunity," Mr Albanese said.
"And at a time when the government itself says there will be an additional 160,000 Australians joining the unemployment queue, maintenance of public housing is an obvious thing to do."
Labor's housing spokesman Jason Clare said there was expected to be a drop in construction of around 45,000 homes this year.
"We're in a crisis. Tradies are losing their jobs. This could be done quickly. And in terms of bang for your buck, you can't beat investing in housing," Mr Clare said.
Economists urged the Morrison government to invest in social housing as part of its coronavirus stimulus measures.
For every dollar invested in social housing, it is estimated to boost GDP by $1.30.
The government promised an extra $1 billion in Tuesday's budget to support another 2500 affordable homes through the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation.
Housing Minister Michael Sukkar said in just two years, the corporation had issued nearly $1.5 billion in bonds.
"The issuance of these bonds has already supported the delivery of more than 2000 new and 6300 existing homes built and maintained by community housing providers," Mr Sukkar told AAP on Wednesday.
But the pandemic has exposed an urgent need for more social housing in Australia - and fast.
The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute told a House of Representatives committee examining the impacts of the pandemic on homelessness the number of people couch-surfing or sleeping rough was likely to rise, especially as rent and mortgage moratoriums ended.
"Rates of homelessness increased following the Global Financial Crisis, and the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be more severe, with significant increases in unemployment expected," the institute said.
"[Our] research suggests that if local unemployment rates increase by 1 per cent, this would increase the likelihood of entry to homelessness of those who were previously employed and housed by 2 per cent."
Allowing people to draw down on their superannuation may also exacerbate the housing crisis in future years, especially for women, the committee heard.
"Many of these workers with reduced superannuation will retire into poverty and housing insecurity," the Older Women's Network NSW warned.
Anglicare Australia said social housing was more "shovel-ready" than many other types of public infrastructure.
"Social housing projects can get off the ground much more quickly than road or rail infrastructure - and it brings greater long-term benefits," Anglicare told the committee.
- with AAP