Working with resident advocates
By Julie Lee
Resident advocates are volunteers who usually live, or have lived, in land lease communities. They may be members of a resident organisation, or a residents committee, or just someone with a commitment to social justice. The thing they all have in common is that they dedicate their time to supporting residents, helping them assert their rights, negotiating with operators and, if necessary, taking disputes to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).
Resident advocates are an invaluable resource for land lease community residents. They live and work in communities, they understand the issues faced by residents, and they have a network of contacts throughout those communities. They are operating at the coalface and often dealing with very difficult problems. The Tenants’ Union supports resident advocates by providing advice, resources and training. Our role is to enable resident advocates to do what they do.
Earlier this year we were finally able to provide face to face training with resident advocates (it had been postponed twice due to the pandemic). The purpose of the training was to equip advocates with the knowledge and understanding necessary for them to carry out their role as advocates. We spent time discussing the meaning of advocacy, skills and ethical practice, the importance of obtaining and following instructions (from the person being assisted), and how all of these relate to their day to day role as advocates.
The training also covered the key steps in identifying and resolving disputes between residents and operators including negotiation, mediation, conciliation and Tribunal applications. Advocates were able to share their experiences, learn tips and approaches and gain an understanding of how the law can be used in each situation.
In our work with resident advocates the Tenants’ Union has become aware that communicating with the Tribunal is not always as straightforward as it appears, so we also had a session on when and how to communicate with the Tribunal and the operator, when a dispute has progressed to the Tribunal.
Feedback from the training participants was very positive and they are all looking forward to next time!
Kim Wright, Chair of the resident committee at The Sanctuary Lennox Head said:
“I found the training to be extremely helpful, in identifying issues within our communities and how best to assist, correct processes and language. The ability to connect with other advocates and the hardworking members of the Tenants’ Union was invaluable. It would be wonderful if it could be extended further and open to more people who are currently isolated in their work for residents.”
John McCabe from Myrtle Glen at Stanhope Gardens NSW:
“A few months ago I accepted an invitation from Mary Preston (Resident Advocate at Myrtle Glen) to step up and assist her in helping our community.
I attended training and information seminars and other zoom sessions. Being new to all of this it was a real eye opener and I was truly amazed at the commitment and dedication of seasoned advocates in helping their communities at great personal expense and time. I felt it was all beyond me but was encouraged by Julie Lee to persevere and give it a go. She said we are here to help.
I was amazed at the breadth of knowledge course presenters had with complex and legal issues and were of great assistance to tenant advocates around NSW.”
In addition to the training provided, the Tenants’ Union has developed a Toolkit for resident advocates, which is intended to reinforce the training but also provide practical information and tips about how to conduct legal research.
On a day to day basis the Tenants’ Union provides legal advice and assistance to resident advocates regarding the disputes they are dealing with. This can be anything from advice on the application of the Act to preparing submissions for a Tribunal hearing. This work is important because, not only does it mean residents are getting the best assistance possible from their advocate, it means the Tenants’ Union is able to assist many more people than if we were working on an individual level.
Many resident advocates are also involved in systemic advocacy and again, the Tenants’ Union is proud to support and work with advocates on law and policy reform issues. Recently we came together regarding the Review of the Residential (Land Lease) Communities Act 2013. We discussed our concerns, ideas, and hopes for reform which resulted in a united and cohesive message to the Government regarding the outcomes we want from the Review.
We at the Tenants’ Union feel lucky to have such great connections with both residents and resident advocates in land lease communities. We value the contribution of resident advocates to the work we do, and to residents of the communities they work in. Together we are stronger, and we very much look forward to continuing our collaborations.
This article was published in Outasite magazine issue 8. Outasite is published annually. Outasite Lite email newsletter, is sent several times a year – subscribe here. All past issues are available in the archive.