Social housing terminations are hurting vulnerable families: AHURI

Social housing terminations are hurting vulnerable families: AHURI
Social housing terminations are hurting vulnerable families: AHURI

A ‘get tough’ approach to crime and anti-social behavior is leading to considerable impact on families relying on social housing, a new report says.

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) report found that women affected by domestic violence are generally strongly supported by social housing landlords.

However, this commitment may falter during a social housing tenancy.

The Social housing legal responses to crime and anti-social behaviour: impacts on vulnerable families report was conducted by researchers from UNSW Sydney and University of Tasmania.

It looked at social housing tenancies law, policies and 95 cases of eviction proceedings in five jurisdictions— New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

It also analyzed national policy principles relating to four groups of vulnerable people: women affected by domestic violence; children; Indigenous families; and people who problematically use alcohol and other drugs.

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Social housing terminations are hurting vulnerable families: AHURI

“Tenancy obligations and extended liability impose hard expectations that women will control the misconduct of male partners and children,” said lead researcher Dr Chris Martin from UNSW Sydney.

“In tenancy legal proceedings violence against women becomes framed as a ‘nuisance’ and some women are evicted because of violence against them.

“The cases involving drug offences in particular show a punitive approach, with very minor offences, or offences involving visitors or family members often resulting in termination proceedings.

“In some cases, tenants are evicted even though the criminal justice system outcome is to allow rehabilitation at home.”

The report suggested several policy changes that could be made to help social landlords, including:

  • reviewing the gender impacts of social housing policies and practice and sponsoring the cultivation of respectful relationships
  • adopting ‘the best interests of the child’ as the paramount factor in decisions about termination affecting children
  • establishing specific Indigenous housing organisations, officers and advocates
  • adopting harm minimisation as the guiding principle for responses to alcohol and other drug use, including where there is criminal offending.

“Responding to anti-social behaviour and misconduct in social housing is plainly a very challenging area of practice,” said Dr Martin.

“Many of the cases we reviewed involved highly conflictual, destructive and distressing behaviour.

“It appears that in most cases a single substantial contact between the social housing landlord and the tenant was sufficient to address any problems.

“However, where problematic behaviour continues, the usual course of escalating threats to the tenancy and pushing the tenant to ‘engage’ with the landlord and support services does not work for many.

“In those cases, people who are vulnerable may be evicted from their social housing, often into homelessness.

“We need to bring support out of the shadow of termination.”

Social Housing Ahuri

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