The following questions are similar to those often asked by journalists:
‘I have been informed about a woman and three children who are sleeping rough – what are you going to do about it?’
The waiting list for homes is currently over 18,000. This figure reached a peak of 24,100 in November 2010.
In the short term, it is the Department for Child Protection and Family Support that helps with emergency accommodation; sometimes through motels, hostels and also not-for-profit organisations.
In the long term, an applicant for social housing is placed on the Housing Authority's waiting list.
The time it takes for an eligible applicant to be offered a home will depend on the area they are applying for and the type of accommodation they need, and whether they are on the priority list.
An applicant who can demonstrate an urgent need may apply for priority listing, however, they must still wait until a suitable property becomes available. Housing is unable to further prioritise the priority waiting list, because everyone on that list has demonstrated an urgent need.
Housing is usually able to provide journalists with the average waiting times for accommodation for a particular region at any given time.
‘Why have you taken so long to evict a disruptive tenant?’
Evicting a tenant is not something the Housing Authority does lightly, and the eviction process itself is regulated by the Residential Tenancies Act.
In simple terms, Housing expects three things from its tenants:
- pay the rent
- look after the property
- respect the neighbours
It is important to note that the majority of Housing’s tenants comply with these rules.
It is essential however that the agency acts when a tenant’s actions adversely affect the peace and quiet of their neighbours or endanger their neighbours’ safety.
Housing has a Disruptive Behaviour Management Strategy and a specialised unit to deal with these issues. Each complaint is investigated and if a complaint is substantiated it can result in a ‘strike’.
If a strike is issued for dangerous behaviour (for example, assault, arson, the manufacture of drugs), Housing takes immediate action to evict those responsible.
If the strike is for serious behaviour – including vandalism to neighbours' properties – the tenant may receive a first and final warning.
If the substantiated behaviour is deemed ‘disruptive’ (for example, excessive noise) the tenant will receive a strike.
Maximum strike action is reached when a tenant receives three ‘disruptive’ strikes within a 12 month period, two ‘serious’ strikes within a 12 month period or one ‘dangerous’ strike.
Not every complaint will result in a strike. This is because the Housing Authority must be fair to the tenant and a complaint must be substantiated for a strike to be recorded. Ultimately a Magistrate has the final say if a tenant is to be evicted.
Over the past three financial years, the following strikes were issued:
|2013 - 2014
|2014 - 2015
The drop in the number between first and final strikes – along with the overall reduction in the number of strikes issued - is evidence that the policy is having a positive impact on tenants’ behaviour.
‘Was it fair to evict that tenant – why did you not take into account the impact on the kids? You will only be moving the problem somewhere else.’
When a tenant receives a ‘strike’ and children are involved, the Department for Child Protection and Family Support (CPFS) is informed.
The tenant is then offered support by CPFS. This support may come in the form of its Stronger Families Program, or other services.
The Housing Authority also assists tenants to meet its three simple rules through its Support and Tenant Education Program (STEP).
Under this voluntary program, tenants learn budgeting and housekeeping skills.
Housing will also help tenants with the process of declaring their house an alcohol-free zone.
In addition, Housing is happy to arrange for rent to be paid directly from Centrelink payments.
However, if a tenant does not look after the property, does not pay the rent, or disrupts or allows their visitors to disrupt the lives of their neighbours, Housing has no choice but to move to evict them.
Before a tenant with children is evicted, CPFS will meet with the tenant. If the tenant has no clear plans regarding alternative accommodation, then CPFS will help find emergency accommodation.
It is important to remember that it generally takes a long time to get to the point of eviction and tenants usually have many chances and offers of support to change their behaviour.
‘Why has that Housing Authority house on a certain street been vacant for so long?’
At any point in time, around one or two per cent of the Housing Authority’s dwellings are vacant. If a house has been badly damaged by a tenant who has moved out, there are several processes that have to be followed – all of which take time.
Under the Residential Tenancies Act, if a tenant leaves possessions behind, Housing is not allowed to remove them until it receives an indemnity certificate from the Department of Commerce.
Secondly, if the property requires work valued at more than $20,000 (which is common), the job must go to tender. It can take a number of months for the tender to be awarded before the work can start.
In other cases, it is possible that the property is being assessed for its suitability for redevelopment to create more affordable and social housing. This could be the case if, for example, a single house sits on a large block that can be subdivided.
‘A tenant says her plumbing has not been fixed. Despite contacting the Housing Authority many times, nothing has happened – why?’
In 2015-16, the Housing Authority received 207,774 requests for maintenance: an average of 568 requests a day.
The majority of these maintenance requests are completed on time. However, given the high number of requests, there are inevitably times when jobs are not completed as quickly as Housing and its tenant would like.
There are various reasons why this happens; a common one is that a contractor will come to do a job, but the tenant is not at home despite being informed that a tradesperson is coming and agreeing to arrangements.