Raising the Roof about Housing Insecurity

Using the stories of society’s most vulnerable to effect positive change for renters.

Single, older women who rent on low income and with no support, live in constant fear of eviction and often have to rely on charities for food so they can pay their rent. Western Sydney University’s Dr Emma Power has gathered first-hand accounts from these women and is using their stories to lobby for change in tenancy laws.

One of the most striking accounts Power heard was that of a Sydney-based tenant in her late 60s. Afraid of eviction, the tenant hesitantly asked her landlord to repair a leaking roof. By the time he acted, after two years of requests, her rental accommodation was mouldy and 40%, including the bedroom, was uninhabitable. After fixing the property, the landlord increased the rent by 20%, which forced the tenant to move.

While recent amendments to the NSW Residential Tenancies Act 2010 now mandate minimum standards to be maintained throughout a tenancy, it is still very difficult for poorer, older tenants to negotiate with or challenge landlords to repair things because they fear rental increases or retaliatory eviction.

“Single, older women are facing a housing crisis. They are one of the fastest growing groups of homeless people in the country,” says Power.

This grim statistic prompted Power to find out more about the experiences these women had in securing housing, their interactions with landlords and real estate agents, and how rental insecurity affected their sense of home and their capacity to care for themselves.

Need to know

  • Single, older women are one of the fastest growing groups of homeless people in Australia.
  • Emma Power conducted interviews to find out more about their experiences.
  • She is lobbying for changes to NSW tenancy laws.

She interviewed 46 female Sydney-based renters, aged from 55 to their early 80s, who were either on Newstart (an Australian government scheme providing income support for unemployed people), the disability or aged pension, or had very low or erratic earnings. Three of the women had previously been homeless and lived in cars.

The soaring Sydney property market meant that a large proportion of their income was absorbed by rent. To make do, many women cut down on electricity, heating or food. Some relied on food handouts from charities or food banks.

Power described a woman who worked in a low paid community services job. The woman relied on vegetables the local greengrocer bundled and discounted before throwing out. In winter, when heating bills were high, she relied on a local church with a weekly food pantry. This food, which was donated by local supermarkets and community members, was frequently past its best before date. As a low paid community worker living in an area with a significant number of disadvantaged families, she collected food alongside her clients.

Power is writing a report for policy-makers and key stakeholders, who are trying to drive change in the sector. She would like to see changes to NSW tenancy laws so minimum standards of housing are quantified, as they are in New Zealand, and an end to evictions without grounds.

Meet the Academic | Doctor Emma Power

Emma Power is a Senior Research Fellow at Western Sydney University.

She is an urban cultural geographer who researches housing, home, ageing and human – animal relations. A particular focus is on everyday practices of homemaking and neighbouring, and the governance of everyday life within home. 

Emma is an ARC DECRA fellow. Her project, "Ageing, home and housing security among single, asset-poor older women" investigates how housing policy and governance, and ongoing housing mobility, inform how single, asset-poor older women create and maintain a sense of home and security.

Other research examines: companion animals and community making; and the governance of companion animals in urban Australia, including in strata apartments and through tenancy policy; the place of wildlife in cities and suburbs.

Credit

This research was supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council.

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Future-Makers is published for Western Sydney University by Nature Research Custom Media, part of Springer Nature.