Clare Davies, Property Manager, HomeGround Real Estate
‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.’ (1)
Our community needs more safe, affordable and long-term housing options for people who are experiencing homelessness – this is just a fact. There are people all over the country working very hard to achieve this goal. And, particularly in the current climate, there is much work to do. Contributing to an increase in affordable and sustainable housing options requires new and creative thinking. Arguably it is strengthened by the community maintaining a diverse range of programs and models that are flexible enough to work collaboratively when required but that separately maintain a strong, process-driven base that provides security and stability for renters, workers and property owners.
HomeGround Real Estate (HGREA) was boldly set up in early 2014 in an attempt to contribute to addressing the need for increased housing options in line with HomeGround Service’s goal of ending homelessness in Melbourne.
HGREA is Australia’s ‘one of a kind not for profit real estate agency’ (2) that aims to reinvest property management fees into housing people on low incomes, at risk of homelessness or homeless across Melbourne.
HGREA manages properties that fall into three categories: Tier One, Two and Three. The subsidised housing falls under the Tier Three category.
The following article will focus on this accommodation with some comments from renters who have lived or continue to live in Tier Three properties.
What is Tier Three?
- Tier Three properties are offered exclusively to prospective renters exiting homelessness.
- Renters are linked in with a support worker who continues to work with the renters until they are settled into the property or on an ongoing basis if needed (although this does not always transpire due to agency engagement limits).
- Transitional Tier Tree renters work with a designated support worker for the duration of their tenancy and focus on their long-term housing exit, usually public housing.
- Prospective renters generally have low to medium support needs and must be able to live independently.
- Some tenancies are long-term (provided renters continue to comply with eligibility criteria (3)) and some are managed as transitional accommodation.
- Accommodation is new and/or maintained to a high standard.
- Accommodation is generally very secure, lift access, sometimes onsite concierge.
- Each property is assigned a property manager (similar to the role of a tenancy worker) who works on behalf of the rental provider, but also informs the renters and support worker of expectations, rights and responsibilities of the renters and follows the Residential Tenancies Act in all dealings with the renters.
- Rent is generally calculated in a similar way to Office of Housing methods and paid via Centrepay.
- Tier Three properties so far are privately owned, and mostly by HomeGround Services.
HGREA currently manage 40 Tier Three properties. The make-up of these properties and tenancies vary. Twelve properties are managed as transitional accommodation and were previously managed very effectively by HomeGround Tenancy and Property until February 2014 when the HGREA was established. The 18 longer-term properties at the Nicholson were managed by Urban Communities Limited (UCL) until November 2014.
Eighteen Tier Three properties are located within a purpose-built complex in Coburg set amongst private owner/occupiers and other more affordable housing. (Investors and owner/occupiers were aware of the mix of accommodation in the complex from the outset.)
Other Tier Three properties include ex-hotel inner-city studios and a series of suburban flats in the inner and eastern suburbs. HGREA also manager a whole complex of units as transitional accommodation on behalf of a church organisation.
These 12 transitional tenancies follow the transitional model whereby a renter is linked in with a support worker for the duration of their tenancy and they work together in pursuit of securing long-term housing, usually public housing but occasionally private rental.
There have been many positive outcomes for renters who live in Tier Three properties. Providing safe, secure, affordable, long-term housing could be attributed to acting as a catalyst, a vehicle or leverage for renters to focus on other things in their life aside from sourcing housing. The addition of targeted support, where applicable, assists renters greatly in their pursuit of getting life back on track.
Some words from a long-term Tier Three renter who has moved on the private rental:
‘After nearly eight years with HomeGround I am now confident in what I do with my life and look forward to being independent of Welfare reliance and support providers. I (have been) able to continue my recovery from bad health and focus on a return to employment and education both of which I have achieved.’
Another renter, when asked how stable housing has contributed to their current situation responded as follows:
‘I have moved beyond merely surviving to thriving. Having one thing in life as a certainty, ‘a sure thing,’ has had a profoundly grounding effect on my life. I’ve been able to achieve long held goals around physical and mental health, succeed with study, eliminate debt and save money. I am living the bright future people kept telling me I was destined for when I was really struggling and in a lot of existential pain.’
Some contributing factors to the success of these tenancies have been identified by a small survey of renters as including the following:
- security of the building
- location and amenity of building
- tenure or length of tenancy
- intensive targeted support, particularly at outset of tenancy
- affordability of accommodation.
‘That it was a secure building and provided a sense of physical safety was hugely important for me when I moved in. Three years on I still see this as one of the biggest advantages of having stable housing.’
Another renter responded:
‘Because I suffer from general anxiety disorder, which is often negatively environmentally affected, my anxiety has thankfully decreased since being in stable housing.’
‘Stable housing has contributed to my current situation in a positive manner by getting me out of the chaotic and often violent, volatile environment of unstable accommodation that I had been previously living in.’
The Tier Three program is closely aligned with the Housing First model that was borne our of a sharp increase in the number of homeless families with children in Los Angeles, California in 1988. (4) Originally Housing First was focussed on a response for the chronically homeless and was premised on the notion that housing a basic right and should not be denied to anyone. (5)
According to the Thomson Goodall report:
”Housing First ‘ and supportive housing are approaches to ending homelessness that focus on providing homeless people with direct access to permanent housing plus support services.’
The ‘Housing First’ model has the following critical elements:
- There is a focus on helping individuals and families access and sustain permanent rental housing as quickly as possible and the housing is not time-limited.
- A variety of support services are delivered primarily following a housing placement to promote housing stability and individual well-being.
- Such support services are time-limited or long-term depending upon individual need; and
- Housing in not contingent on compliance with services – instead, participants must comply with a standard rental agreement and are provided with the services and supports that are necessary to help them do so successfully.’ (6)
Despite many examples of renters flourishing once they secure Tier Three housing, there have also been evictions and difficult tenancies, although very few. In line with research around the Housing First model, I would argue that the fact that as the accommodation is deemed long-term and is thereby more secure and offered in conjunction with the provision of sufficient and individually allocated support, Tier Three tenancies have resulted in less evictions and more overwhelmingly positive outcomes for renters and (therefore property owners).
Challenges Going Forward
Significant areas for improvement include:
- Cleaning up the great areas around tenure, can we refer to the tenure as long term when this is tied to renters’ ongoing eligibility? How can we offer give year rental agreements or longer rental agreements?
- Support agencies closing prematurely with a renter – more recently if there has been a perceived need that a renter might benefit from some support (for example the renter is building up arrears and there is pending VCAT action), the property manager has the option of asking the renter if they think they might benefit from being linked with a support worker.
- Further work needs to be done around how to fund and facilitate support for unsupported renters if the need arises. HGREA has recently applied for funding for this.
- Acquiring more appropriate subsidised housing – continued work around pursuing further developments/housing opportunities in order to increase affordable and sustainable housing options.
How does this model assist with prospective renters who might have a tendency to fall through the cracks, chronic rough sleepers or high needs clients? Or are we satisfied that they are accommodated by other programs/models?
It is quite obvious to me from worker perspective that secure, safe, affordable, long-term housing can change lives and along with other effective models should be a right to all based on individual need.
The question is how will our society create more of these opportunities people? How does our community renew commitment to these challenges particularly in the current climate?
The answer might be one house and one unit at a time.
‘Stable housing has contributed to my current situation in a positive manner by getting me out of the chaotic and often violent, volatile environment of homelessness including homeless rooming house – unstable accommodation that I had been previously living in. My housing has had an immensely positive impact of all aspects of my life.’
Many thanks to the renters and ex-renters for their words and thoughts on this subject.
(1). Marianne Williamson quote provided by HomeGround renter.
(2). Heather Holst, Australian not for profit real estate CEO in Chicago for homeless conference. Postedwww.homegroundrealestate.com.au, 1st June, 2015.
(3). Twenty eight of the Tier Three properties, renters are offered to renew the rental agreement if they choose at the end of each year, provided they have abided by their Tenancy Agreement and continue to meet eligibility requirements.
(4). Profile for Tanya Tull, Ashoka Fellowship, 2009. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
(5). Housing First, From Wikipedia, 2015.
(6). HomeGround Transitional Housing Summary Report Independent report by Thomson Goodall Associates, 2009. p 18-19.
Featured in Parity June 2015 Volume 28 – Issue 5 Dear Rental Provider: Private Rental and Homelessness(page 43)