Social housing and sustaining tenancies

25 September 2013
We work to improve tenancy sustainment of vulnerable tenants in social and public housing

In 2009 we found ourselves homeless – all these circumstances led us to be homeless. We were evicted. I then lived with four of my five kids in the car. We did that for 10 weeks. We then made contact with [front door service] and then we bounced all over the place for three months in crisis accommodation. We would spend a week in one motel and then another and then a caravan park and then we had to drive three hours away. Because it was the five of us and we had such a shitty car we had to make some kind of fun out of it so we pretended we were camping. We spent four weeks in one tiny hotel room – three boys, one girl and I. [We also] tried rooming housing but it was really difficult because you couldn’t say to the landlord ‘oh hi, I have five kids.’ I would rent the house and then basically sneak the kids in through the window. In the early stages of our homelessness we went to 11 different hotels, until we got into transitional housing. We have been in transitional for four years. - HPLC social housing consultation participant 2012

Given the pressures on the public and social housing sectors, the lack of affordable housing and increasing homelessness, it is clear we need to improve tenancy sustainment of vulnerable tenants. Unless we are able to sustain tenancies, many vulnerable tenants who are evicted will seek assistance from the specialist homelessness sector and impose a cost on government as a result of issues related to homelessness.

Homeless Law’s top 10 points in relation to social housing and homelessness and the need to prevent evictions into homelessness are:

  1. Secure, affordable housing plays a critical role in improving the lives and wellbeing of vulnerable Victorians – policy-makers should not focus solely on the challenges and difficulties of public housing.
  2. There are clear links between eviction from social housing and homelessness – social housing frameworks must prioritise homelessness prevention and must make evictions from social housing a last resort.
  3. Transitioning public housing tenants into private rental (through limited tenure or eligibility reviews) presents a risk of eviction into homelessness – private rental is unaffordable, insecure and difficult to sustain for low income tenants with other vulnerabilities.
  4. For public housing tenants who choose to move into private rental, measures are needed to minimise the risk of homelessness – these include negotiation of long-term leases, provision of financial and casework support and stronger legislative protections for tenants.
  5. There are risks associated with the transfer of ownership or management of social housing to community housing providers – if such transfer occurs, reporting and monitoring is needed in relation to affordability and evictions from community housing properties.
  6. Managing the public housing waiting list requires careful decision-making – while having clear policies is essential, rigid application of policies should be avoided in making allocation decisions.
  7. Stable, affordable social housing improves people’s ability to participate in training and employment – limiting tenure will not act as an incentive to participation.
  8. Integrated service provision is key to sustaining tenancies – there should be formal requirements on social landlords to link high risk tenants with support services before issues escalate and before eviction action is taken.
  9. Calculating rent at 25% of a public housing household’s income is appropriate – any increase in rent would impose financial hardship on public housing tenants.
  10. There are cost savings involved in providing secure, affordable housing – decision-makers must evaluate the costs avoided through the provision of social housing and avoiding evictions into homelessness (including reduced use of emergency accommodation, health and justice systems).

Related law reform submissions:

  • Keeping Doors Open: Submission in response to ‘Pathways to a Fair and Sustainable Social Housing System’ Public Consultation Discussion Paper (July 2012) – this submission contains the insights of 10 people who are living in, or wanting to live in, social housing, as well as nine case studies based on Homeless Law’s housing and tenancy legal casework. Homeless Law sets out 10 key points and recommendations about social housing and homelessness in Victoria. Also have a look at the guest blog by Lucy Adams on the VCOSS Voice about the risks of the private rental market for vulnerable tenants or listen to this interview on Right Now Radio. HPLC - Keeping Doors Open.pdf
  • Building a Better Housing Future for Victoria – A Joint Statement from the Community Sector in Response to the Housing Framework (July 2012) – Homeless Law worked with a coalition of housing, homelessness and family violence peak organisations to develop a Joint Statement supporting accessible, affordable and appropriate homes in Victoria. The Joint Statement sets out five key housing priorities and was endorsed by over 200 organisations and individuals.
  • Chris Povey, Churchill Report: Investigating Tenancy Sustainment Programs and Approaches in relation to Clients at Risk of Homelessness (September 2011) Winston Churchill Memorial Trust of Australia report by Chris Povey - PI....pdf
    Former Homeless Law Manager and Principal Lawyer, Chris Povey, was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 2010, which allowed him to travel to the United Kingdom, United States and Canada to look at models of best practice for sustaining tenancies and avoiding evictions.  A key recommendation to come out of this work is that there is a need to prioritise homelessness prevention. Initiatives in the UK and the US demonstrate that prevention has become a way to minimise the impact of housing crises and the effects of affordability and availability issues.
  • Charting the Right Course: Submission to the Inquiry into the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (June 2011) – this submission compiles case studies of 20 matters in which Homeless Law has used Victoria’s Human Rights Charter to negotiate and advocate on behalf of clients.  This evidence shows that the Charter had played a role in preventing 42 people, including 21 children and seven families, from being evicted from social housing into homelessness. HPLC - Charting the Right Course.pdf
  • “We Can’t Go Private …” Inquiry into the Adequacy and Future Directions of Public Housing in Victoria (2010) – in preparing this submission, Homeless Law interviewed six tenants of public housing. They each had a history of homelessness and overwhelming hardship, including abuse, family breakdown, mental illness, substance dependence, disability and family violence. Their stories illustrate the realities of homelessness and the challenges of public housing. Importantly, though, their stories also identify the role housing can play in ameliorating disadvantage and promoting recovery. 
  • Compulsory Centrelink deductions for public housing tenants (April 2013) – the Federal Government was proposing to compulsorily deduct public housing tenants’ rent from their Centrelink income.  Homeless Law submitted that the Exposure Draft of the Bill did not present an effective strategy for homelessness prevention. It was an overly broad, blunt instrument that would catch too many public housing tenants in a net of compulsory income diversion. It risked imposing rather than alleviating disadvantage and should be avoided.  Ultimately the Bill wasn’t passed. HPLC Submission - Housing Payment Deduction Scheme.pdf