By Julie Foreman, Executive Officer of the Tenants' Union of NSW
Congratulations to the TU! 40 years of working for tenants rights and housing justice is no mean feat. This compilation of stories celebrates the achievements of that hard work and also takes a clear-eyed view of what still needs to be done.
The TU, including our thousands of volunteers, staff, members, Board directors, funders and supporters over four decades has achieved real gains in legislative reform, educated and advised hundreds of thousands of tenants, established (and re-established) a network of tenant advice services, positively influenced government policy and actively contributed to the public discourse. You will hear about all of this from those directly involved in the stories below.
At any anniversary it is appropriate to acknowledge and thank our founders, many of whom not only continue to be influenced by their time at the TU but also in turn continue to participate in the social justice movement.
It hasn’t always been an easy journey and a key characteristic of the TU is our long-term commitment to positive change for renters and its vision for a secure, liveable and affordable renting system in NSW. The long–term commitment has meant that the TU has evolved.
Today the TU is a nationally accredited community legal centre, registered training organisation, policy think tank and authoritative source of information for tenants. We have also, over time, expanded our expertise in Aboriginal housing, social housing, residential parks, boarding houses and older renters. The TU thanks the tenants of NSW who have taught and guided us in this work.
Not only has the TU changed, so has the context of our work. There are more renters now (in actual numbers and percentage) than could have been imagined when the TU began. There is a growing recognition of the need for reform of the whole housing system and we are on the verge of a cultural shift in the place of renting in our society. Information is now accessed in different ways – last year our website had over 700,000 unique visits.
The role of civil society organisations has changed in that time too. The contraction of the amount of government funding and the narrowing of its focus; the competition within the community services sector; the out-sourcing of government services and pressures for small organisations to amalgamate has meant that the TU has worked hard to ensure we have not unintentionally veered from our original aims or been silenced in our fight for tenants rights. We remain anchored by our vision of housing justice.
The TU knows that we are only as strong as those around us. This is truer today than 40 years ago. It requires organisations like us to be excellent communicators, to collaborate, adapt and find common ground. It also requires us to notice, acknowledge and loudly call for change when we witness the impacts of the imbalance of power on renters.
So what of the future for the TU? This short quiz will give you a clue:
Can renters be told to leave their home for no reason?
Can rent be increased an unlimited number of times in a year?
Can landlords enter a renter’s home without their consent and when they are not there?
If you answered yes to these questions, you are right and you will know there is more work to do! Work to raise awareness, work in standing beside all tenants in difficult times, work in changing laws & policy. We’re up for it; we hope you are too!