A day in the life of Esther Smith, Tenant Advocate

Esther, GSATS Tenant Advocate
Esther Smith, Tenant Advocate

How long have you been an Aboriginal Tenant Advocate?

I've been a Tenant Advocate at the Greater Sydney Aboriginal Tenants' Service (GSATS) for three months, but prior to that I was an Aboriginal outreach worker at South West Sydney Primary Health Network’s (PHN) Close the Gap programme for nearly two years which was also tenancy work, and I already had a connection with GSATS in that role.

How has your previous experience helped you with this new role?

My life experience and previous work means I already had some experience and understanding of both private and social housing issues. I have been working in my community for years.

What area does the Greater Sydney Aboriginal Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service cover?

The whole of greater Sydney from Gosford to the Shire to Lithgow to Bowral – it’s a pretty big area! I went from working just in South Western Sydney to working in Greater Sydney where I have clients all over. At the moment I have clients in Redfern/Waterloo, Campbelltown and Blackheath.

What is a success that you have had as a Tenant Advocate?

I had one client who came to us because FACS housing were demanding access to her backyard to remove a tree that was sacred to her because her mother’s ashes were planted under the tree. The tree was still living and just some of the branches needed trimming, but Housing wanted it cut down instead. Housing didn’t understand the cultural significance of the tree to the tenant so they took our client to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) on the basis that they had a permit for the tree to be removed – without an inspection of the tree.

We stepped in and corresponded with the local council. The day before the Tribunal hearing, the council sent a halt on the proceedings of the permit in order to do a more detailed inspection of the tree. We still attended the Tribunal hearing and it was agreed to adjourn for two weeks to allow the council to carry out their inspection. When it went back to hearing, Housing were still trying to insist on being able to remove the tree but the Tribunal Member encouraged them strongly to withdraw, given that the report from the council was recommending pruning only. Housing withdrew their application.

Tell us a little about your position and what you do on a day-to-day basis?

I mediate between clients and other service providers and refer clients to other service providers where necessary, but as well as this I am regularly at the Tribunal or preparing for Tribunal hearings with my clients, which can include preparing and reviewing evidence, drafting submissions and applications and home visits to clients (which are a major part of my day). We do try to keep matters out of the Tribunal as much as possible. I also deal with most of the DV cases that come into GSATS. Repairs and maintenance and compensation in relation to that makes up a lot of my work. I also do community outreach work at places like the Baabayn Aboriginal Womens Group and duty advocacy.

What keeps you motivated to go to work each day?

My community.

What are the challenges in your job?

Sticking it out until the end because some matters can really drag out. You are always feeling for your clients but you have to stay calm and handle it and keep them calm until the end. Give them hope when sometimes there isn’t much. I have some clients that I have been working with for over two years and they are still not finalised.

Do you have any hobbies outside of your work?

I am a grandma to 14 grandkids, the oldest is 13 and the youngest is 6 months. I don’t have much time for anything else after that!

You help a lot of people maintain their homes, what does your home mean to you?

Where family is – it’s not actually a building.