I’ve been really busy this last week with finishing off some work for the TAFE course I’m doing, making a few slideshows, starting a new photography project with a local council and celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday. This week, I’m helping a local women’s housing service do a slideshow based submission to government. So I haven’t found the time to write on here or just do the everyday things that I need to do. However, 12 months ago, if all these things were on my plate at the same time, I would have gone into meltdown. What has made the difference to my state of mind? Home!
I don’t often speak about my housing situation to anyone, even friends, as there is a real stigma attached to housing. Today, however, getting ready to work on this submission, I feel I have to be honest about my own situation if I would ever like things to improve for all people. Currently there are 105,237 homeless in Australia, according to Homelessness Australia. To be honest, I’m not sure what form of homelessness that means. You see, homelessness is defined as
When a person does not have suitable accommodation alternatives they are considered homeless if their current living arrangement:
- is in a dwelling that is inadequate; or
- has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable; or
- does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations.
There are therefore, many types of homelessness. Those who have no roof over their head, those who have a temporary roof over their head, those living with family or friends, those living in shelters.. The list goes on. The housing situation in Australia is terrible and it does need to be addressed. I don’t have any answers but maybe I can help people see that it’s not as cut and dried as people think.
In the 51 years of my life I have had 24 different addresses with the first 21 years of my life spent at only 2 of those. So basically in the last 30 years, I have shifted 22 times and I’m exhausted. Some of them, I have chosen to do and some I have had no choice. There are many reasons a person leaves a house. I admit that for many years after my daughter was killed, I couldn’t settle anywhere. I always felt that another place would make me happier. It never did. But some of the moves weren’t out of choice but necessity.
Tenants often cop a bad rap and I know there are shocking tenants out there. There are also dreadful landlords and real estate agents too who will blacklist you for absolutely no reason, leaving it near impossible to get other housing. It is common practise for some places to try to take your bond for things that were already wrong with the premises or have happened due to their own lack of maintenance.
I was living in one place where the guttering was so bad that it leaked all over the back decking, causing it to rot. I went straight through the decking one day when I walked on it. I reported it to the real estate agency and they did nothing. When I left the place, I had spoken to the people shifting in and offered them the trampoline that my sons had grown out of. They happily agreed to it. When I tried to get my bond back, the real estate agents charged me for repairing the decking and for removal of the trampoline (which they never removed as the people kept it). I had no proof that I had phoned them to tell them about the decking. I tried to reason with them over it but there was no reasoning. Suffering from PTSD there was no way I could have gone to tribunal at the time as I was way too anxious and stressed so I just lost all the bond.
Another lot of landlords rented a place to us where there was a sleepout in the back yard. They said it was substandard accommodation and that we could use it but they didn’t think it was livable. My son decided he wanted a bit of independence at the time as he was turning 18, so he fixed it all up for himself, with their permission. He painted and cleaned and had it looking great. He didn’t fix the bathroom in it but it was usable. There was a crack in the shower door and tiles coming off but he was an 18 year old boy, as long as he could have a hot shower he was happy. When it came time to leave there, they took me to tribunal due to the crack in the shower screen and tiles coming off. Once again, I lost my bond as the swore that it was all in perfect condition when we shifted in. As a result of the work he had put into making it look great in every other way, it looked like it was indeed a well presented granny flat and their lies won.
I applied for one house many years ago only to be told I had been placed on a black list agency. They weren’t allowed to tell me who had put me there or why. Thankfully the person at the real estate agency believed me when I said I had no idea and checked it out for me. It turns out I had never rented through the agency that black listed me so I phoned them and demanded they take me off the listing, which they had to do as they had no knowledge of me either but had still managed to ruin my reputation for a period of time.
Another place I shifted into was so filthy when I shifted in that I successfully demanded a cleaning fee from the landlords for having to clean it myself. It was honestly appalling and was through a real estate agency again. I painted, steam cleaned, made a garden and just generally improved the house tenfold in the two years I lived there. People commented when they walked past how beautiful I had it looking. At the end of the tenure (as the landlords wanted to drastically increase the rent due to how good the place now looked) the property manager said that since the lawns hadn’t been mowed for 2 weeks, they could charge me for it. I pointed out to her that I would fight her tooth and nail over it and had photos of the original condition of the house. She conceded that perhaps she was being unreasonable but only when she realised I really did have evidence of the original state of the place.
I have had some FANTASTIC landlords too. Landlords that have fixed what needed fixing immediately and one who gave me a free week’s rent at Christmas to say thank you for being a great tenant. I think I am a good tenant. I have had times where the rent was late.. I have broken one or two things in a house. I am very untidy at times. But usually rent was paid on time, I have fixed what I broke if I could and the house was clean though untidy.
I have to go back to court soon as a previous landlord used to walk into the premises whenever it suited him without knocking. The last time he did it, I confronted him and told him he had no right to just walk in as he pleased. He then hit me and I pressed assault charges which are still ongoing. After that incident, I knew I had to get out of there and went to see if I could get emergency housing anywhere. I have only once before applied for emergency housing when my ex husband was stalking me and I feared for our lives. I had the two boys and my elderly mum living with me so The Housing Commision in Victoria offered me a house in the worst neighbourhood which actually had bullet holes in the walls and was riddled with mould. I turned it down so got thrown off the list as I “couldn’t need it that badly”.
This time however I was lucky enough to go to the wrong place looking for help. I went to what I thought was the Housing Dept and instead ended up at a Women’s Supported Housing Service and thankfully, they had a place I could go to in a few weeks. In the meantime I could go to a woman’s refuge. The problem with the woman’s refuge was that my son and I lived together and as he was over 18, he couldn’t go with me. While I understand this, I could not have gone there leaving him homeless. He’s seen and experienced more violence in his 26 years than most people will see in a lifetime. He’s the most gentle person you could ever meet in your life and if he were a female child living with me, regardless of age, he would have been able to reside there too. My sons mean more to me than anything so I, of course, turned it down and just had to live in fear of the landlord for another few weeks until this place came up. That fear ended up resulting in another severe bout of PTSD making me extremely ill all over again.
Rent is so expensive these days and it is a constant financial struggle when most of what you earn goes on rent. It puts people in a vicious cycle they can’t break out of. You can’t save when you are paying high rents.. Sometimes you don’t have any spare money left over. This in turn makes people need to rent privately as real estate agencies look into your wages to see if you can afford it. Then with private rental, you have no real protection. Private renting is fraught with difficulties but is sometimes the only option you have.
I hate having no security of tenure. I hate having to try to pick everything up and shift all over again. I hate having to try to constantly find 6 weeks rent in advance, 4 weeks for bond and 2 for rent in advance. I hate waiting for that bond to be returned. Renting is horrible. I lost my house in the divorce settlement and got nothing from it as my ex husband had taken out second mortgages, personal loans, overdrafts and credit cards without my knowledge. If I could own a house again, it would be a dream but at this moment in time, that’s not a possibility so I have to rent.
I wish there were enough houses to go around. I wish people didn’t rort the system when they don’t need public housing. I wish children weren’t sleeping in cars as families have nowhere to go. I wish there weren’t unscrupulous landlords and I wish there weren’t lousy tenants who make it hard on all tenants. And I wish there was a better understanding of why people find themselves in these situations. It’s not always a black and white situation. Not all people who are homeless or living in shelters or refuges choose to live like that. Not every family who can’t find a house are no hopers. Not every tenant who loses bond or is placed on a black list is actually a bad tenant.
When I shifted into the place I’m in now, I felt like I had come home. It’s affordable, it’s clean, it’s safe. It’s also temporary which breaks my heart. It is only for a year and now, that time is nearly up and I’m anxious all over again at what is in front of me. I’m on the waiting list with the Housing Dept but I have no idea when I may come to the top of the list. But I’m trying not to think about the future yet. I’m concentrating on living in the moment. I have amazing support from the Women’s Housing service and I feel like someone finally has my back. I know I won’t be thrown out as soon as my 12 months is up and that makes me feel a bit better but I still have no idea of where I will be.
Until I have to leave here, this is my refuge where my broken wings have been able to heal and that means the world to me. I have felt safe and secure enough to start to go out again. I have had money left over to be able to live properly again. I feel strong enough to study all over again and I feel like someone cares enough to have been able to help me. I know I can’t stay here forever as someone else will be needing the help up this year of security has given me. I hope they appreciate it and love this place as much as I do. As I said before, while I have no answers as to how to fix things, things do indeed need to be fixed.
Happy homemaking… Livvy 🙂