by Aida Morden, PhD
HOUSING AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY
*This article was published in the Parity Magazine produced by Council for Homeless Person (CHP)s;
Volume 27, Issue 5, June 2014 issue. Dr Morden is an Individual Advocate for people with disability.
As an advocate for people with disability, the agency where I work targets clients with intellectual disabilities primarily. However, we are increasingly drawn into assisting people who have other forms of disability ranging from acquired mental health, brain injury, autism spectrum disorder, physical disability, psychiatric disability, and sensory disability.
In 2013-2014, our agency had a total of 97 clients. The table shows that a little less than one-half (49%) of our clients lived in public housing and less than one-fifth (19%) were in supported accommodation. There comprised a total of 24 clients, living with relatives and/or renting privately, who approached our agency for assistance for access to social housing. Of these 24 clients, only four were provided priority housing and the others are still waiting to be housed.
Housing tenure of Clients, 2013-2014
All Clients N = 97 %=100
Group Homes/ Supported
Accommodation 19 19
Community Housing 11 11
Living with Relatives 13 14
Private Renting 7 7
Public Housing 47 49
Private Housing and People with Disability
The three major problems facing people with disability, in the private rental market, are high rent, unsuitability of the property, and insecurity of tenure. Before such problems can be experienced however, there is the question as to whether the applicant will be approved as a tenant in the private rental market. Private renting is unaffordable due to high rent which can increase every six months or every year. The property is often physically inappropriate and there is no requirement for the landlord to modify a property to suit the need of a tenant with a disability. Moreover, most landlords will not agree to modification, even at no cost to them, and would most likely just choose an applicant who is able and willing to move into the property without the need for modification. Discrimination is a prerogative of the private landlord as they are not bound by social responsibility and social justice principles in dealing with clients.
Problems of clients renting privately
•High rent. Rent increases regularly
•House not physically suitable
•Insecure tenure; landlord can terminate tenancy at any time.
The private rental market is increasingly becoming inaccessible to people with disability. Firstly, the private rental sector is not expected to commit to social responsibility and to be guided by social justice principles. People with disability are easy prey to discriminatory decisions by landlords who have the prerogative to choose who they believe would become a ‘good tenant.’ Being on a low income and with disability puts our clients lower on the list of suitable applicants. It is the experience of our agency that people with disability are often unsuccessful in finding accommodation in the private rental market, and those who are living in the private rental market are either a sub-tenant or relative of the official tenant of the property.
For the first three months of last year, January - March 2014, we have a total of 33 current cases and already 11, or one-third, sought priority housing. In contrast the whole year of 2012-2013 produced only 24 clients that came to our agency seeking to access social housing. All our clients received the Disability Support Pension (DSP). This suggests that our clients have very limited prospects of maintaining their tenancy. Given that they are all dependent on the DSP and other forms of Centrelink payments, their incomes are finite and they have difficulty coping with periodic increases in rent. Regular and significant rental costs act to exclude people with disability from accessing private housing.
Social housing, such as public and community housing, is the only viable and sustainable housing for people with disability. SBSA welcomes the role and contribution of the community-housing sector in delivering social and affordable housing and we encourage the growth of community housing that specialises in providing affordable and appropriate housing to people with disability. We believe that community housing has the capacity to be able to respond to the housing needs of people with disability. We say this based on our deep concern about the declining stocks and declining services in public housing. We believe that, although community housing adds diversity to the social housing system, the government should not consider community housing as a substitute for public housing but rather as complimentary and a sustainable addition to social housing.
There is no shortage of favourable feedback from clients who are currently living in community housing. In our view, community housing has more flexibility and willingness to respond to the special needs of people with disability and some embrace the principles of social responsibility. Funding the expansion of community housing for people with disability, we believe, would alleviate the housing crisis experienced by the disability sector.
Independent living is the main goal for people with disability who choose to live by themselves. Depending on their disability, independent living often entails custom-designed homes where they are able to move around the house with little or no assistance, ensuring their safety and security. Appropriate accommodation for people with disability often involves an occupational therapist who will clearly outline the requirements to make the house suitable to the person with disability.
Appropriate housing for people with disability often requires redesigning and modifying existing properties. A person with disability should be able to live independently requiring little or no assistance as they navigate within and around their accommodation. This is a requirement that private housing in most cases cannot satisfy.
For people with disability the only option for housing affordability and suitability is social housing, that is, public and community housing. People with disability are dependent on their disability pension and other Centrelink benefits. Their incomes are finite and they have difficulty coping with periodic increases in rent. Regular and significant rental costs act to exclude people with disability from accessing private housing.
For people with disability security of tenure, affordability and appropriateness/suitability are the three equally important factors to achieve the quality of life to which they are entitled. Private housing has not and will never have the flexibility and capacity to satisfy these three requirements.