By Carol Barr and Vivian Clifton, social housing tenants and Tenants' Union volunteers
Firstly, to introduce us, I am Carol (on the left in the picture) and my sister is Vivian (on the right). We are social housing residents living in Riverwood and have lived here since 1984. Originally we were in a third-floor unit on – a word I dislike – a housing estate. Because Vivian had a health problem we were given a transfer a short distance away to a small villa.
Our introduction to the Tenants’ Union of NSW was while I was doing a Diploma of Community Work/Welfare at TAFE around 2007. This required doing two placements in organisations providing social contact on several levels, or assistance with information that empowered or improved an enquirer’s daily life. My second placement was the TU. When my placement period ended I was occasionally asked in to do administration tasks when an issue of Tenant News came out. I was only too happy to help staff in posting out the issue, as it is a major and time-consuming job. Being a good sister, I volunteered Vivian as another helper leaving more staff to carry on with their work. So began our long-time association.
I continued to keep in touch and when the time came and I was no longer working, the then Executive Officer asked if we could help out with the posting of Tenant News when issues came out. Vivian and
I became part of the team labelling envelopes, inserting the newsletter, doing a count for the post office; finally, tidying up and breaking down the boxes the newsletters had been packed in for recycling. Memories when we look back are that we always enjoyed mailout time. When the TU was at Millers Point we had a trolley that the mail was stacked on and then pushed (no mean feat!) up a small hill to the post office.
Why have we continued to assist? The friendships already made plus the ones when new faces appear. More importantly it is contributing to informing people of issues that may affect the most important part of our lives, the security of home. We can cope with problems when they assail us if at the end of the day we can be in our own place.
Having always lived in rented accommodation we have seen great changes. Once upon a time there was no need to sign a lease, no bonds, landlords did not come to inspect the property, and there were protected tenancies with both tenant and landlord going to the Fair Rent Court. Now renting is more complex. Social housing has also undergone changes. Where once a tenant went to their local office and could establish a sound relationship with their Client Service Officer, online contact or phoning a call centre now seem to be the norm.
On looking to the future, selling social housing stock has been voiced but maintenance then raises issues for old stock. Will partnerships with developers, creating a mix of social and private, lessen the voice of social housing tenants? How do we integrate those with mental health issues; will the department find itself unwilling to tackle the problem of friction?
For those renting in the private sector there are issues over bonds, there is stress and cost if rent increases mean continually moving, and there is landlords’ unwillingness to carry out repairs.
Also, as older people, we notice that new inner-city affordable housing developments have focused on young workers. Would affordable housing for pensioners work, where their rent goes towards home ownership; or is this wishful thinking? Constant monitoring across the board is needed, the TU is needed.