Government handouts and a failure to make people accountable for their actions are contributing to the growing private and public housing crisis in the Taree region, according to LJ Hooker Taree principal Amanda Tate.
Ms Tate works on the private rental market frontline with a team of property managers who manage "one in three rental properties in Taree," and she says "probably 60 to 70 per cent of our tenants are on some sort of welfare."
She is quick to label as "completely false" the public perception that rental applications are rejected if income is derived from social security payments, or the applicant has a large number of children.
On May 3 the Manning River Times' revealed how a family of six children came to be homeless after 90 days when the property they leased on Mitchells Island for eight years was sold. The story sparked significant community comment on the Times' Facebook page, with many people giving voice to challenging experiences securing rentals, price, availability, competition, and claims that large numbers of children are a barrier to securing a property.
Ms Tate knows there is high demand for affordable housing in the Taree area, knows that numerous applications will be submitted for each property, and says, "it's the quality of the tenant that is the focus, and finding the best tenant for our landlords, who ultimately have the final say."
"We work for the landlord, and the property manager is there to protect their very large asset. If you have good references you will find something to rent."
More than 20 years of real estate experience in Taree informs Ms Tate's view that "tenants who struggle finding a place to live don't realise how important their rental reference is - they don't take it seriously."
She describes the region as a "very affordable area," with the average rental around $350 a week for a three bedroom house with a single lock-up garage.
LJ Hooker Taree works closely with Samaritans, Youth Homeless Service and CatholicCare to help educate people about accessing and staying in the private rental market in Taree.
We've taken it upon ourselves to try to support them, rather than to fight with the tenant and throw them out.LJ Hooker Taree principal Amanda Tate
"A lot of people just need a hand up and to be shown how to do things, like how to budget for their rent.
"Probably 60 to 70 per cent of our tenants are on some sort of welfare and making them accountable for their actions is important because a lot of them grow up with that expectation of handouts.
"A lot of families have missed out on basic living skills. We go into houses where they vacuum the floor once a year and never clean the bathroom or take out the garbage.
"You could have half an inch of soap scum and that's how they vacate the property. The bond is four weeks' rent and it doesn't cover the cost of a cleaner who might be $40 an hour, and then if they leave all of their rubbish behind, that adds to it and so the bond just doesn't cover it."
Ms Tate believes the government contributes to the problem.
"They are not making people accountable for their actions, because they will get a bond, and don't have to pay it back; they'll get additional funding if they get behind in their rent, even though they have had rental assistance - so they are double dipping and you see them do it over and over and over again.
"They know the government will look after them, they don't have a care factor and the government could be doing so much more. They (the government) need to create boundaries, discipline, spend more money on education rather than just throwing it at them - there would be millions of dollars of waste in public housing that could be put to better use."
LJ Hooker cites a good rental reference as critical to securing a property and it has established a few properties in the area to assist people to rebuild their reference.
"We have caretakers on site who can experience their behaviour, monitor the rental payments and encourage them to restore their reference so they can go back into private housing, and that seems to work really well."
"We say to vacating tenancies, if you decide to walk away from your problem and your debt, it will come back to bite you at some stage. Often it's not until they have settled down and looking for a rental that they will find it difficult if there has been outstanding debt.
"We keep their files and we won't lease another property to them until that old debt is paid, holding them accountable for their bad choices, which is exactly what the government needs to do."
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