19 May 2023

Experiencing housing vulnerability? Supportive Tenancy Service says seek help early

| Dione David
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Woman sits stressed out in her car, holding a sleeping toddler

People experiencing housing vulnerability don’t need to wait for disaster to strike before reaching out for help. Photo: iStock/globalmoments.

Woden Community Service (WCS), in partnership with the YWCA of Canberra and Capital Region Community Service, is urging people in vulnerable housing situations not to wait until they’re in dire straits before reaching out for help.

The Supportive Tenancy Service (STS) has been operating in the ACT for 12 years providing support, advice and connection for people whose tenancies or mortgages are at risk.

The program aims to reduce the risk of homelessness by working with tenants, owners, real estate agents and other community services across the ACT.

STS helped 370 people get back on their feet last financial year.

But according to STS team leader Grishma Rajkotia, get ahead of rental problems as the housing crisis continues rather than wait for the worst-case scenario.

“Many people think unless they’re already out on the street, they shouldn’t reach out,” she says.

“You don’t need to reach a crisis point before you ask for help. Don’t wait until you’ve received a notice to vacate or your application is with the ACT Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Don’t let mortgage payments become unmanageable before you seek help.

“Your best bet is to get ahead of it because things can move slowly.”

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STS’s primary source of referrals is OneLink, but this year it’s putting the call out far and wide to services in the hope of reaching more people with the message.

“People in vulnerable housing situations sometimes don’t realise what fine a line they’re walking. Any number of variables could be the one that tips a person into homelessness,” Grishma says.

“Even if you’ve only missed one or two rental or mortgage payments, we recommend reaching out and kicking the process off as early as possible.

“If you get back onto your feet, that’s fine. It’s easier to disengage from the process than try and turn your situation around quickly in the current housing climate.”

Team Leader of Woden Community Service's Supported Tenancy Service Grishma Rajkotia

Team leader of Supportive Tenancy Service Grishma Rajkotia says early intervention can allow for more practical steps to help overcome housing vulnerability. Photo: Liv Cameron.

Grishma says if rentals availability in Canberra is low, availability of affordable rentals from other organisations such as Rentwell is even more limited.

When it comes to securing Housing ACT dwellings, there’s a “sliding scale”. If you’re assessed as having “high needs”, your average waiting time for public housing can be five to six years. If your circumstances are serious enough to bump you up to “priority”, you’re still likely looking at a one- to two-year wait.

“That’s why we’re trying to get referrals a little earlier, to make the most of a window of opportunity to put extra supports in place,” she says. “At the very end of the process, it gets much trickier.”

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Sarah* approached STS when she was more than $3500 in rental arrears and had received a notice to vacate. She also had a significant debt of about $30,000 she was struggling to manage.

Sarah, whose only income was from government assistance, rented a two-bedroom property for $435 a week. She lived there with her two-year-old daughter.

Although she had applied at Housing ACT, Sarah had been on the waitlist for more than 18 months.

Using a strengths-based approach while acknowledging Sarah’s trauma before connecting with WCS, STS discussed goals, created a long-term plan, connected her with the relevant services and assisted with applications.

STS helped her set up a payment plan to address her rental arrears, which included applying for $1000 from the ACT Government’s Rent Relief scheme and accessing her superannuation for another $1000, enabling her to pay her landlord $2000 upfront.

Through Centrepay, Sarah started paying $50 a fortnight on top of her rent to address the remainder of the arrears.

She also agreed to undertake Care Financial long-term financial management skills training and find a roommate to bring in extra funds to cover rent.

“Sarah’s tenancy is now stable again, she has overcome the rental arrears and told her case worker she has started addressing her historical debt,” Grishma says.

“This is not something you have to face alone or without support but the sooner you tap us in, the better.”

If you’re experiencing housing vulnerability, contact OneLink and ask about the Supportive Tenancy Service.

*Sarah’s surname has been withheld for privacy.

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