Housing: African Australians - Compendium (2010)

2010 - African Australians: human rights and social inclusion issues project

A compendium detailing the outcomes of the community and stakeholder consultations and interviews and public submissions

8 Housing

8.1 Overview

Housing is an important part of the settlement process for the newly arrived migrants and refugees. Everyone has the human right to a secure place to live, which is fundamental to living in dignity, to physical and mental health, and to overall quality of life.

The human right to housing is explicitly set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and other widely adhered to international human rights treaties and Declarations.

Housing rights include:

  • legal security of tenure
  • availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure
  • affordability
  • accessibility
  • habitability
  • location
  • cultural adequacy.[1]

While the impacts of housing shortages and affordability affect all prospective home owners and renters, the challenges are magnified for members of new migrants and refugee communities, particularly those who are newly arrived.

New migrants and refugee communities are among the most disadvantaged when it comes to accessing safe and affordable accommodation to meet their basic needs. The difficulties confronted by newly-arrived African Australians are further compounded by barriers in the form of racial and religious discrimination, exploitation and intimidation when it occurs.

Issues related to housing and housing affordability featured repeatedly in the community consultations, particularly the shortage of suitable dwellings for larger households such as African Australian families with four or more children.

8.2 What is the experience of African Australians, especially new arrivals, in regard to housing assistance and support?

(i) Community

In seeking responses to the above question, it is important to note that eligibility for settlement support services varies depending on the categories of entry for newly-arrived African Australians. For example, different refugee categories are eligible for different levels of settlement services, especially on arrival accommodation and housing assistance.

A range of agencies offer various levels of brokerage to assist clients to access the private rental market. Generally, service providers utilise a range of solutions to deliver housing outcomes, including head-leasing, community based housing and shared housing arrangements.

Broadly, the range of housing assistance and support that might be provided includes:

  • IHSS Accommodation Services
  • SGP programs (through Migrant Resource Centres and other settlement support services)
  • independent, not for profit organisations
  • state and territory governments - for example, housing assistance/Departments of Housing public housing systems
  • tenancy advisory services
  • other relevant agencies.

Community respondents said the services that offered the following assistance and support were of most benefit:

  • locating an actual place to rent that was affordable and adequate to their needs
  • attended appointments with them to inspect properties - this included providing assistance with transport to help get to the appointments
  • assistance with filling out application forms and entry condition reports
  • assistance with nominating referees
  • provided culturally appropriate and relevant information (including through the use of an interpreter) in relation to tenancy agreements, including rights and responsibilities of all parties
  • assistance with bond and rent in advance through state and federal government funds
  • assistance with emergency relief.

The Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS) program plays a vital role as an initial on-arrival support program, assisting newly-arrived refugees and humanitarian entrants to settle in Australia. Under the IHSS, refugees accepted under the Commonwealth Humanitarian Program are eligible to receive intensive settlement assistance for the first six months after arrival.

The IHSS Accommodation Services helps entrants to find appropriate and affordable accommodation and provides them with basic household goods to start establishing their own household in Australia. In summary, Accommodation Services provide:

  • fully-subsidised rent and utilities for the first four weeks after arrival
  • suitable and affordable accommodation
  • a package of basic household goods
  • tenancy training.

Community respondents highlighted the following key issues in relation to housing assistance:

  • The current six months of accommodation support is too short and most newly arrived African Australians are not able to locate affordable accommodation on their own at the end of that time period. Once exited from IHSS, refugee and humanitarian entrants are at a serious disadvantage when competing for housing in the private rental market. As such, most community respondents suggested that the period be extended to 12 months.
  • Many humanitarian clients have never had to rent or look for housing before, let alone in an Australian context:
  • "It's just a complete shock when you are out on your own trying to find somewhere for you and your family to rent. We are just not ready to do this after just six months, when we are also trying to learn the language, put our children into schools, try to find work."
    (Community Respondent, WA)
  • During the period of accommodation support, effective tenancy training and support is essential to ensure later success in the housing market. Structured tenancy training sometimes falls short of providing entrants with the knowledge and skills to meet their everyday tenancy obligations, and navigate the private rental market with minimum assistance.
  • Many workers have limited knowledge of tenancy and tenancy laws, and often have learned from experience. This can at times fall short in meeting the information needs of newly arrived families and communities. It is important that training be developed specifically for those working with humanitarian clients in the area of tenancy law, dealing with property managers and real estate agents, the role and availability of public housing and the complexity of the housing market.
  • Some services provide emergency financial relief which enables case workers to dispense one-off $80 grants to assist refugees, often for immediate housing needs such as rental payments. Emergency Housing Funds which are designed to provide clients in crisis with a grant or a loan to address needs such as paying a bond or other housing expenses can be extremely helpful.
  • When support workers attend appointments with real estate agents and help with the application they are more successful in locating rental properties, and less likely to experience discrimination.
  • Although there are some housing initiatives which are funded under the Settlement Grants Program (SGP), the program's priority areas are community orientation and development. Some community respondents suggested that there be more accommodation support programs established and funded under the Settlement Grants Program.
  • Many public housing high rise estate tenants have little or no contact with agencies, community groups and service providers - due to limited English skills, limited access to information, limited awareness of the way things are done or through culturally different ways of doing things.
(ii) Stakeholders

Stakeholders highlighted a number of housing assistance and support programs aimed at enhancing housing options and pathways for African Australians. However, almost all stakeholders reiterated the point that while these services are valuable, they are not adequate or able to meet the housing needs of African Australian communities in the midst of the growing crisis in the housing market place where there is a severe shortage of affordable housing.

The following assistance and support programs were identified by stakeholders as being of benefit to newly-arrived African Australians:

  • intensive case management support through the IHSS program
  • developing strong relationships with local real estate agents.

Stakeholders expressed the view that there were a number of gaps that needed to be addressed if such support and assistance was to be maximised:

  • ongoing information and practical education, rather than just the six month intensive support up front, would better equip refugees with the necessary knowledge and skills to prosper in the private rental market
  • transport and attendance at property inspections greatly improves the chances of the client getting access to the rental property, and yet these are often not funded as part of the support provided, particularly through the SGP.

Stakeholders also identified that the task of finding accommodation for new arrivals is becoming increasingly difficult in many states and territories, occupying a great proportion of providers' time, with no substantial increase in funding to sustain the level of intense support and assistance.

Case management formed a significant proportion of the support provided to newly-arrived African Australians, particularly those who were refugee and humanitarian entrants. Case work support includes assisting clients to complete applications for both public and private housing, bond loans and other financial assistance. Specifically, caseworkers provide letters of support, assist with obtaining the required documentation, directly advocate for the client and explain tenancy rights and obligations to their clients.

Caseworkers also assist refugees to search for private rental properties, accompany them at inspections and provide transport for those clients who are unable to drive or use a street directory, even though such transport assistance is unfunded.

Accommodation support through SGP programs provide education and information sessions on housing, renting, house maintenance and assistance with application forms. This service is available for the clients who have been in Australia less than five years.

One organisation initiated a support network known as the 'Private Rental Education Volunteer Program' to assist refugees to access private rental properties.

One organisation engaged effectively with local churches, so that community members could house refugee clients who were particularly desperate to find housing.

SGP funding has been made available for programs aimed at tenancy education. SGP programs organise various workshops on different topics aimed at providing newly-arrived African Australians with skills and information about housing.

Development of these and other skills can make a significant impact in improving the prospects of newly-arrived African Australians finding suitable accommodation in the private rental market, and ensuring that their rights are respected.

(iii) Public submissions

Issues relating to the housing needs of African Australians were addressed by almost half (46%) of the submissions.

The experiences of many African Australians, especially new arrivals, in regard to housing assistance and support, as discussed in the submissions, include:

  • lengthy waiting times to secure public housing
  • overcrowding leading to family breakdowns and poor health
  • homelessness.
(a) What are the most significant concerns for African Australians in relation to housing?
(i) Community

The most significant concerns for African Australians in relation to housing identified by community respondents, including:

  • housing availability
  • housing affordability
  • reliance on private rental
  • long delays in obtaining public housing/difficulties in registering on priority list
  • problems in finding suitable accommodation for large families
  • problems obtaining references and raising bond money as tenants
  • repeated rental increases
  • overcrowding
  • maintenance and reporting repair issues
  • problems gaining access to bridging accommodation, such as transit flats.

Community respondents repeatedly highlighted concerns related to discriminatory practices on the part of real estate agents. There were many stories of real estate agents and landlords who did not supply details of vacant properties to newly-arrived immigrants.

Social isolation was another major concern, particularly for single mothers:

"I had to go far away because there was nothing close to the community that I could afford. I am feeling very lonely."

Isolation is increasing largely because of the cost of housing which forces many newly-arrived communities to move away from infrastructure, support and amenities, which can result in increased stress levels.

Another factor of concern and one that has the potential to impact negatively on the family and the family unit is the extent to which respondents spoke of overcrowding. There were examples where up to 20 people were living in a two-bedroom house just so that they could be together and continue to support one another.

Several stakeholders also stated that overcrowding was the result of high rising costs of renting, and so people simply couldn't afford to rent without the support of the whole family.

Another key issue that was raised related to the overall standard and quality of housing provided to African Australians, particularly new arrivals. There were numerous examples provided of poor accommodation, no heating or cooling systems, broken windows and so on:

"For a long time I would just fix it myself with my own money because I didn't know what my rights were. The real estate agent didn't bother to tell me either."

People who were newly-arrived spoke of being asked to sign six and 12 month tenancy leases within days of arriving in Australia with no real understanding of what they were signing, of the rental accommodation system or of their rights and responsibilities.

Many respondents were unwilling to assert their rights as tenants or to pursue complaints through formal processes.

(ii) Stakeholders

Issues raised by stakeholders included:

  • discrimination against African Australians by real estate agents
  • new arrivals lack rental or employment histories
  • there is generally little or no awareness of tenancy rights and responsibilities
  • refugees and humanitarian entrants immediately placed in cheap (affordable) private accommodation in poor outer-suburban areas lacking appropriate services and transport.

Challenges associated with family sizes and housing availability were identified by stakeholder respondents as an area of continued concern. Stakeholders referred to situations where large families had to be split between two properties just to get some kind of decent housing.

It is clear that the high cost of private rental accommodation is having a severe impact on the successful settlement of refugees and humanitarian entrants. Not only does it cause serious financial hardship, it also negatively impacts on refugees attempting to maintain employment or keeping their children enrolled in the same schools. During the consultations it was not uncommon to hear of families having to move every year due to unaffordable rent increases.

Limited and infrequent public transport can make it difficult or impossible for newly arrived families to access other services, attend doctor's appointments, or go to language classes or even take the children to school.

Stakeholders did highlight that a number of initiatives had been implemented by various state and territory governments which provide assistance to newly arrived, particularly refugee and humanitarian entrants, with searching, applying and maintaining rental properties.

(iii) Public submissions

Issues relating to access to housing were addressed by two fifths (42%) of the submissions.

Some of the major issues affecting African Australians access to housing highlighted in the submissions were:

  • lack of available public and private housing in general
  • lack of public housing suitable for larger families
  • the negative impact of some Council settlement regulations:
    "Families would also like to be located in proximity to one another but some councils view concentrations of public housing tenants of particular nationalities as problematic."
    (s55)
  • unattainable application requirements imposed by many real-estate agents (including prerequisite rental histories and referees).
  • fear of being separated from established community support
    "There is a reluctance… to leave the Auburn and Parramatta areas as a strong African community has been established here, there are relevant support services and children are settled in schools in the area. This security and stability is highly valued by members of these communities, many of whom have lived in and fled war torn countries in recent years."
    (s8)
  • limited understanding of home loans and how to purchase property
  • home loan rates and repayments are beyond many African Australian incomes.
(b) How common is homelessness (including 'couch-surfing', rough sleeping and short-term hostel accommodation) amongst African Australians?
(i) Community

Community respondents were of the view that homelessness was becoming more of a reality as costs increased and family obligations continued.

Issues such as family breakdowns, overcrowding and unemployment were seen as significant risk factors in terms of homelessness.

Some community respondents indicated that many newly-arrived African Australians may live temporarily with friends or family thereby masking the extent to which 'homelessness' really was an issue for them.

(ii) Stakeholders

Service provider stakeholders agreed that newly-arrived refugees were at particular risk of homelessness particularly given the conditions under which some were living:

"So there is the situation where one family is living with another, and there is now probably up to twenty people in that house which really only fits five people and there is the ongoing financial stress, with the young ones possibly pushing all the wrong buttons, and then you get the family breaking down, and the bread winner moving out, and there you have it - homelessness. Not that hard to achieve really when you are faced with those conditions of living conditions."

Stakeholders confirmed that an increasing number of young people from African Australian backgrounds were homeless, but disagreed that it was a result of culturally inappropriate interventions.

Stakeholders also raised issues related to domestic violence and homelessness and expressed the view that this was becoming an increasing area of concern:

"The issue of crisis accommodation for women who are newly-arrived refugees experiencing domestic violence is a big barrier because often it's a short term solution that means they will end up going back to the violent relationship."

One strategy to mitigate the impact of relationship breakdown is the 'Stronger Families Relationships Program' implemented by the Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA). This program is designed to support families to avoid relationship breakdown and possible subsequent homelessness.

(c) Searching for housing can put significant stress on families. What support is required to minimise the stress on African families?
(i) Community

Community respondents agreed that stress and uncertainty in securing and maintaining appropriate and affordable housing can be particularly detrimental to their mental health and wellbeing. Several community respondents also referred to the fact that trying to locate accessible and affordable housing meant that they were forced to move to the outer suburban areas where community supports were not available.

Community respondents also reiterated that long waiting lists for public housing were also a significant contributor to family stress and pressure.

Suggestions for improvements included:

  • extra support by providing one month free rent and fully subsidised utility connections and costs in the first month of arrival for humanitarian community individuals or households
  • development of Tenancy Support programs so that newly-arrived communities can receive practical assistance to find a suitable property, apply for, accept an offered tenancy, move in and maintain their accommodation
  • extend the IHSS program up to 12 months for those families who need additional time to settle in
  • public housing and community housing stock to be significantly increased
  • enhanced options in relation to transitional housing options with support
  • specifically allocated housing or units/campus for humanitarian clients
  • greater protection from excessive rent increases
  • enhanced options for women and children escaping family violence in terms of short-term emergency and crisis accommodation.
(ii) Stakeholders

Several stakeholders expressed the view that many newly-arrived African Australians, particularly humanitarian entrants, were not adequately informed prior to their arrival of the situation and context they were arriving in, particularly in relation to the reality of the housing shortage.

Many stated that information about housing in Australia needs to be advised repeatedly and throughout all the stages of settlement.

Stakeholder respondents tended to raise similar suggestions for improvement and change as those identified by the community stakeholders above.

One suggestion was the extension of models such as the Refugee Transitional Housing Program in the ACT in other states and territories. The TTHP matches refugees with vacant public housing properties listed for redevelopment. The program is a joint initiative of Housing ACT, Companion House and Centacare and assists up to eight families at a time by offering them six-month temporary housing while they seek permanent accommodation.

8.3 Access to housing

(a) What barriers do African Australians face in accessing appropriate and affordable long-term housing?
(i) Community

Community respondents identified a range of barriers facing African migrants in Australia including:

  • lack of housing stock/lack of suitable housing options
  • racial discrimination - both direct and indirect
  • lack of knowledge of the workings of the private rental system
  • problems finding suitable accommodation for large families
  • problems obtaining references and raising bond money as tenants
  • English language skills
  • lack of awareness of their rights and responsibilities as tenants
  • lack of personal transport/access to public transport
  • lack of financial and social capital
  • option fees imposed by real estate agents.

Community respondents reflected on the difficulties they had encountered in trying to access housing options, particularly private rentals. Many participants reported that directing newly-arrived people into private rental accommodation created enormous financial difficulties.

Racial discrimination, both direct and indirect, was the most frequently cited barrier identified by community respondents in relation to accessing affordable and appropriate long-term housing. Many community members reported racial discrimination by the landlords and real estate agents against African migrants:

"They will tell you to your face that the property is no longer available and if you wait long enough you will see someone with the right coloured skin be told that they can go and inspect the very same property you wanted to look at."

There were also many examples provided by community respondents of being denied private rental housing due to their family size.

There is no doubt that the lack of rental and employment history in Australia for newly-arrived African Australians presents a real obstacle to obtaining private rental tenancies. Without referees, it is extremely difficult to secure rental properties.

(ii) Stakeholders

It was reiterated by most stakeholders that access to housing by most newly arrived African Australians has become critical. Similar barriers to access were identified.

(b) In the private rental market, real estate agents and landlords require evidence of prior rental history in Australia. This poses a major block to newly-arrived African families as they cannot compete with 'more desirable' applicants who have such rental history. In what ways can real estate agents and landlords be more inclusive of newly-arrived African families?
(i) Stakeholders

Several stakeholders referred to a variety of programs in different states where housing support agencies were building relationships with local real estate agents and successfully replacing the need for rental history with that of a guarantee by the support agency. These 'head leasing' arrangements were reportedly gaining support and being implemented in a number of locations, both formally and informally.

Strategic partnership arrangements
between community providers and real estate agencies in some localities have also contributed to reducing discrimination and ultimately alleviating the stress and burden on African Australian families themselves.
Rental guarantee programs
such as the one being piloted in New South Wales have the potential to lower the level of risk perceived to be associated with low income and related vulnerabilities, and assist in the maintenance of tenancies in private rental markets.
The New South Wales Tenancy Guarantee Program
provides landlords with up to $1,000 to cover damage or the excess on the insurance policy in the case of severe damage that may occur during the tenancy.
Please see:
www.housing.nsw.gov.au/Forms+Policies+and+Fact+Sheets/Policies/Tenancy+Guarantee+-+RES0011A.htm
Stakeholders also highlighted the recently implemented Access to free Telephone Interpreter Service for Real Estate Agents and Landlords
managing properties with African Australian tenants.
The Migrant and Refugee Rental Housing Assistance Project
undertaken by the Migrant Information Centre in Eastern Melbourne with the South Central Region Migrant Resource Centre, began out of the significant difficulties and disadvantages that migrants and refugees have in securing long-term and affordable housing in the private rental sector.
Please see: www.miceastmelb.com.au/housing.htm
(c) What type of education/training could assist real estate agents, landlords and public housing officers to better service African Australians, in particular, new arrivals?
(i) Community

Most community respondents expressed the view that real estate agents would benefit from the following training and information:

  • anti discrimination laws
  • cultural awareness, including coverage of both pre arrival and resettlement experiences
  • mediation with real estate agents/landlords.
(ii) Stakeholders

Stakeholders expressed similar views in relation to the type of training that could be provided to real estate agents, landlords and public housing officers to improve service responsiveness.

"Providing real estate agents and landlords with a level of awareness on the experiences of newly-arrived African Australians, particularly refugees experiences will help in breaking down communication barriers."

Another strategy to address access barriers is for settlement workers to establish productive working relationships with individual real estate agents.

One suburban settlement agency hosted an all day 'Housing Expo' which brought together refugees and representatives from banks, real estate agents and DHS. The event was designed to inform the mainstream business and community groups about refugee communities and to encourage interaction between these groups.

8.4 Housing rights and discrimination

(a) Can you provide examples of discrimination experienced by African Australians in the private rental market and/or in the public housing sector?
(i) Community

Many community members reported perceived racial discrimination by the landlords and real estate agents against African migrants. This includes:

  • discrimination based on race and discriminatory perceptions that they will be poor tenants
  • stories abound of real estate agents and landlords who do not supply details of vacant properties to newly-arrived immigrants
  • Other instances of discrimination related to the failure of real estate agents to properly attend to repairs and general maintenance. In some instances, examples were given where real estate agents exploited people's lack of awareness by requesting expensive replacements for things they were generally not responsible for
  • Community respondents also gave examples where bond money was not returned due to the fact that they had not filled out the initial conditions report properly or they were told that it was required to fix damages that did not actually exist.
(ii) Stakeholders

Like community respondents, stakeholders also cited numerous instances of perceived discrimination both within the private rental market and public housing.

"I had an incident with housing where I spoke to the real estate agent that she said what is the background of your client and when I said African she said that unfortunately because an African person last rented the property they trashed it. Unfortunately the actions of a few become representative of all of us".
(NSW)

(iii) Public submissions

Issues relating to housing rights and discrimination were addressed by a third (34%) of the submissions.

The submissions highlighted a number of barriers which prevented African Australians from formally pursuing their legal rights in relation to housing. They included:

  • lack of knowledge and understanding about housing rights and anti-discrimination laws
  • legal proceeding taking too long
  • lack of trust in the legal system to protect their rights
  • Fear of being evicted.
(b) What is the impact of this discrimination?

Community respondents unanimously agreed that the impact of discrimination in housing was widespread and significant.

  • the lack of adequate housing is an obstacle to social inclusion and integration
  • increased risk of homelessness
  • discrimination can significantly limit access to accommodation
  • employment prospects are critical to the ability of refugees to provide housing for themselves
  • impact on health and wellbeing
  • Impact of family wellbeing.
(c) Many African Australians are not aware of their rights and responsibilities as tenants. What other important housing-related information do African Australians need to know, and how can this information be provided?
(i) Community

Community respondents agreed that there is a need for more appropriate, low level literacy tenancy education about what is involved in tenancy for support workers to provide.

They said tenancy education needs to be given greater emphasis, since it is central to newly arrived communities' integration to Australian culture, establishing security, settling in to employment or education and connecting to other agencies and organisations. The tenancy education program should involve development of specific resources targeted to African Australian communities at different stages of their settlement in Australia.

Respondents said the materials should include what is involved in establishing a tenancy, tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities, how to maintain a property, how to exit a tenancy and what to do when things go wrong.

Since many recently arrived humanitarian communities are often experiencing 'information overload', it is important the information is given in a timely and culturally appropriate way.

Good practice examples cited during the consultations included:

The 'Housing Club'- a support group designed to train refugees to complete rental applications and to use the internet for house hunting.

Tenancy DVD - The Migrant Resource Centre in Fairfield, Sydney, has produced a DVD on how new migrants to Australia can avoid pitfalls when they sign rental agreements with landlords and real estate agents.

The Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland had a program called Community Partners in Tenancy which provided training in tenancy law to people, mostly from African communities, who then deliver tenancy workshops.

(ii) Stakeholders

A number of programs were cited as good practice:

The Residential Tenancies Authority in Queensland has provided funding to support projects that assist African refugees in Brisbane, Logan, Gold Coast and Townsville. Refugees from a range of African communities, including Sudanese, Burundi, Somali, Rwandan and Congolese communities have benefited from a range of community education strategies undertaken by the Residential Tenancies Authority. These include the translation of information booklets into four African languages and the training of bilingual workers about the laws applying to renting in Queensland. The Authority is committed to implementing targeted information and engagement strategies that support African refugees to understand their rights and responsibilities when renting in Queensland, and prioritises emerging communities for funding within its grant scheme.

Please see: www.rta.qld.gov.au

The Australian Red Cross was funded to run the Sudanese Sustaining Tenancies, Building Communities program. It was a short project that aimed to combat potential homelessness of Sudanese refugees in Toomoomba, Queensland. Knowledge of tenancy was to be improved though a peer leadership network and culturally-appropriate community resources.

Another short-term program, the Logan TAAS Multilingual Fridge Calendar project was developed by the Youth and Family Service (Logan City) Inc. The program produced a calendar to put on the fridge. It was translated into languages used in Burma, Congo, Sudan, Tanzania, and Burindi. Tenancy advice and information was also printed on the calendar.

The Peer Tenancy Learning project was provided to humanitarian settlement clients across Brisbane by the Multicultural Development Association Inc. This project was focussed on assisting people to understand and complete housing documents and forms such as Tenancy Agreements and Entry Condition Reports.

8.5 The effect of religion, age, gender, sexuality and disability

(a) Are the housing experiences of African Australians different based on religion, age, gender, sexuality or disability? Please provide reasons in your answer.

It is important to recognise the specific housing needs of particular groups, such as single people, young adults and large families.

Refugees who are single mothers were identified as a particularly vulnerable client group, which struggles to secure appropriate accommodation in the first place. Single mothers reportedly find it very difficult to attend private housing inspections due to difficulties in arranging child minding, as well as the distances and costs of travel involved.

In relation to domestic violence, women are particularly vulnerable when seeking access to accommodation, including crisis accommodation.

Access to housing by people with disability is severely compromised by the unwillingness of landlords or real estate agents to meet possible requests for property modification.

Multicultural young people are at increased risk of homelessness due to the refugee and migration experience and the pressures this can have on individuals and families.

(i) Public submissions

Only a small number (5%) of submissions provided information relating to the effects of religion, age, gender, sexuality and disability in reference to housing.

The housing experiences of African Australians can also differ according to an individual's age, gender or disability. For example:

  • Females without husbands are less likely to secure rental properties than women with husbands
  • Young males without families find it harder to secure appropriate and affordable accommodation
  • People with disabilities requiring housing that accommodates their disability have far fewer suitable housing options available, and usually do not have funds to pay for necessary renovations themselves.

8.6 Housing sector support

(a) How can governments and NGOs better regulate real estate agents and landlords who service African Australians?

The regulation of real estate agents in the letting of residential property, including the application of risk-assessment practices in each state and territory occurs, principally, through the statutory licensing of real estate agents.

Statutory licensing requirements impose on those involved in the sale, leasing and collection of rents for residential property a requirement that all industry participants meet, inter alia, minimum educational and operation experience levels, and minimum levels of acceptable professional practice.

In addition to these requirements for the licensing of agents, there are statutory and industry based provisions that regulate the conduct of real estate agents in each state. The Real Estate Institute regulates its membership with a code of professional practice in each state. This provides for ethical dealing between agents and with customers and clients. In particular, with respect to leasing, it places an obligation on members not to discriminate or act unconscionably.

Constitutionally, it is the states and territories that are responsible for residential tenancy legislation. Each jurisdiction has specific legislation concerning the rights and responsibilities of landlords (lessors) and tenants, and of real estate agents and other property managers acting on behalf of landlords.

While each state and territory has established its own sets of legislative standards and processes for regulating landlord and tenant's relations, most of the Acts are compatible and cover a similar range of issues.

In the main, contemporary Australian tenancy laws have tended to focus on 'balancing rights and obligations' as their main purpose, and have aimed at ensuring basic conditions and processes, rather than taking a strong consumer protection role.

In the absence of any legislative right to housing, the decision to accept or reject an application for a tenancy lies exclusively with the landlord or their agent/property manager. Unlike the public sector, there are no bureaucratic requirements to specify eligibility or accountability of process; rather, the power lies wholly with the rental housing provider. Although some level of transparency may be provided through the use of standardised application forms, there is no prescription concerning how the provider may or should choose between two or more equally 'qualified' applicants. This makes the application process one of the main sites of competing interests.

(i) Public submissions

Issues relating to housing sector support were addressed by one fifth (21%) of the submissions. They reflected the responses from stakeholders and community.

(b) A person's housing situation (including the search for housing) can compromise other important needs such as health care, education and employment. How can services be better coordinated to ensure that all vital needs of African Australians are met?

It is important to encourage and recognise the need for specialised, flexible and multi-faceted approaches and models which promote targeted responses for different communities, as well as recognising considerable differences in local and regional issues and needs, with regard to housing.

There is an urgent need for providers to establish networks to share knowledge, improve referral, reduce service duplication and help identify trends, issues and solutions in their respective states/territories.

There remains a need for further research to identify and promote existing successful local and/or regional strategies, and more fundamentally to develop a comprehensive housing strategy to address the specific needs of refugees and humanitarian entrants.

This strategy should include investment for a greater supply of transitional and priority housing, refugee transition hubs and semi-independent units. State and territory governments should play an important role in such developments.

Generally there is a need for government agencies to better resource effective advocacy mechanisms to improve housing and housing services for refugees and humanitarian entrants. Community reference groups should be established to ensure that tenants from refugee backgrounds have the opportunity to contribute actively and meaningfully to discussion on housing issues.

[1] Australian Human Rights Commission, Housing, homelessness and human rights. At www.humanrights.gov.au/human_rights/housing/index.html#housing (viewed 19 January 2009).