Giving Security of Tenure to Renters: A CITY WEST STORY

There’s nothing worse than moving house, getting settled, working hard to make it into a home... and then having to pack up and leave, sometimes with very little warning. Yet that’s what the majority of renters in Australia currently face.

According to Unsettled: Life in Australia’s Private Rental Market– a survey jointly conducted by Choice, NGO National Shelter and National Association of Tenant Organisations – security of tenure is at an all-time low, with rates of homelessness on the rise and issues of quality and security for people residing in rented accommodation spiralling out of control. In fact, 83 percent of people who responded to the survey admitted to not knowing where they’ll be living in a year from now.

The survey reveals “massive issues” regarding the stability, safety and availability of rental properties, with just 17 percent of renters on a 12-plus month lease. In addition, the survey found tenants would rather make do with poor quality housing than complain to the landlord and risk being evicted.

Approximately 50 percent of all renters report being hesitant to contact landlords about repairs for fear of being blacklisted or put on a ‘bad tenancy’ database. The troubling result is that around 14 percent of tenants are too afraid to make a complaint, while 25 percent of people who did request repairs received no response whatsoever to their query.

At City West Housing, we pride ourselves on providing affordable housing options across central locations in Sydney for those in a need of safe, secure and long-term living solution.

Single mother Hannah was stuck living in a low quality, unsafe apartment block with her young son, hours from the city, which meant her son was often home alone due to the difficult commute from his mother’s workplace.

“We lived somewhere that wasn’t very secure, somewhere that was quite small, and I was always worried,” she recalls. “I was always rushing home from work, scared for him to be home alone. And it took me so long to get there – that was a huge stress factor for me.”

Now, Hannah and Mark – who has just turned 13 – live in a City West Housing Development in Pyrmont. They’ve called it home since the start of 2017.

“It’s higher quality than my previous rentals, which were actually further out but even more expensive. It helps with everything when you can just focus on your job during business hours,” she says. “I always perform better at work when I’m not worrying about what’s happening at home.”

It is fundamentally important that tenants have the right to raise issues they’re experiencing with their housing provider, and that they feel comfortable highlighting problems or any repairs that may be needed – for both their own safety and for the wellbeing of the community. If there’s ever a problem with the apartment or a request for a repair, Hannah knows she can call City West Housing, and that her concern will be taken seriously and handled quickly – without judgement or negative consequences.

Security gives peace of mind but it also makes room for opportunity; something Hannah’s son can personally attest to. Since their move, Mark has found a new favourite sport in dragon boating, which has grown into such a passion that his team attended the Australian National Dragon Boat Championships in March and collected five gold medals, as well as one silver.

“I was right there to see them win and see how hard those kids work – it was so unexpected,” says Hannah.

Safe, clean and secure housing is a huge issue – especially in the city – but it’s not limited to today’s working population. Mark wouldn’t have had the same opportunity to pursue a sport, with his mum proudly cheering on from the sidelines, without an infrastructure that allowed him to live centrally, and for his mum to live and work centrally without a long commute.

The truth is that the negative consequences of unsafe housing stretch into the future, affecting our children and even their children. If we want our country to be a place where we all get a fair go then we need to start with one of the most basic rights – safe and affordable places to call home in the centre of our towns and cities, where jobs and opportunities are available.

Hannah and Mark’s story is the perfect example of how people thrive when given the security of tenure they deserve: “Honestly, City West Housing has taken so much stress off my shoulders. I’m safe and secure, and my son is happy. I’m just so appreciative that we have the chance to live here.”

Written by CEO of City West Housing - Leonie King

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Article originally appeared in Australasian Housing Institute’s latest edition of Housing Works in August