Under the Project, G+T lawyers have since 2015 been visiting residents in Moree and Walgett to give advice and collect evidence of requested repairs. By representing the tenants as a group rather than individually, the Project creates leverage with landlords. Where residents had previously been brought before the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) for failure to pay rent, early intervention reverses the situation so that residents are now plaintiffs rather than defendants in legal proceedings. A positive by-product of this is a reduced load for NCAT, since issues around repairs are addressed without litigation and rent is then paid on time.
The Project also involves collaborating with housing providers to improve their understanding of their responsibilities around repairs and how they can better meet these responsibilities. By engaging in early intervention and empowering vulnerable residents of shared housing, the Project has improved resident-landlord relationships.
The dedication of all parties to improving access to justice for Indigenous Australians in this region has been crucial to both the genesis and success of the House Repairs Project partnership.
“Negotiating the reality of the situation is a difficult task and the commitment of the partnership to persist where none have previously, is outstanding,” said Wendy Spencer, DEG Project Manager.
“This much-needed task would not have been undertaken by any other service, so the team is uniquely addressing a huge unmet need.”
The outcomes so far are encouraging. Within a 12-month period, the project assisted 38 tenants, in relation to three housing providers, and secured the writing-off of almost $130,000 worth of rental arrears. Additionally, the project has been able to formalise tenancy agreements, providing housing security for residents.
The flow-on effects of the Project are significant. Lovric reports that “local tenants are more proactive and better able to articulate and enforce their rights.”
ALS Chief Executive Officer, Lesley Turner, described the Project as an “innovative, grassroots solution in assisting local Aboriginal people who are experiencing tenancy issues and we are pleased that it is greatly assisting communities in need.”
Housing is a basic but crucial human right, underpinning other areas of wellbeing and development such as health, finances and relationships. By focusing on access to justice to enhance housing for Indigenous people, the project is laying the foundations for Indigenous empowerment across other spheres, into the future.