Category: Homeless

‘Foot in the Door’ getting young people into private rentals

For a young person, entering the private rental market for the first time is a daunting and confusing process; navigating inspections, applications, and even establishing rental payments can be an anxiety-inducing exercise for anyone. For our most vulnerable young people, even the idea of ‘going it alone’ can evoke emotional barriers. Regardless of the solutions presented around affordability and bias, rental legislation, the whole process can be very overwhelming for a young person.

We know that creating a positive transition into a private rental can turn those feelings of hesitation and doubt into emotions of excitement and empowerment for a young person who is still establishing their independence.

Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) support young people to carve out a way for a young person to find stable employment, create relationships, provide shelter and deal with complexed trauma. While SHS services provide this vital role, the real estate sector plays the most crucial role in young people accessing and being successful in a private rental property.

Real estate engagement has been a taboo topic for several years in the SHS sector. With only a handful of successful one-off funded projects of this nature, delivered in a specific location across NSW and even fewer nationally, there was a proven need for a boarder and more consistent approach.

Even with the introduction of private rental subsidies such as Rent Choice Youth and rental guarantee’s, both available through NSW state government initiatives, barriers around the stigma of homelessness from agents remained a constant response. The issues around perceived stigma have been long felt by the SHS sector when trying to place a young person into stable and secure housing. Along with the reality young people are more likely to have a lack of rental history, which further contributes to the challenge of finding a private rental. In 2018 the NSW premier advised a priority of reducing youth homelessness by 2019. Increasing access to the private rental market was a key strategy under this priority. Yfoundations saw this as an opportunity for cross-sector collaboration and proposed the pilot concepts of the NSW wide, Foot in the Door initiative.

Development and design of Foot in the Door

To understand the barriers young people and services were facing in accessing private rental opportunities, Yfoundations consulted further with SHS members and the broader sector to obtain an understanding of how we could improve young people accessing the private rental market.  Simultaneously Yfoundations was working closely with the Real Estate industry to understand the challenges they faced with considering young people for private rentals. Yfoundations received feedback around a lack of rental history and affordability as the significant barriers to accessing a property. Issues of stigma were prevalent from Real Estate agents but more so towards those young people who were currently residing in a shelter, refuge or transitional housing. Some other barriers expressed equally by both SHS service workers and the Real Estate sector were the challenges of maintaining positive relationships with high staff turn over and communications, highlighted by statements like,

“ We used to be able to get many clients into properties when John was at the agency, but since he left it’s like starting all over again every time with someone new, they don’t know what we do, and we just don’t have time to start over continuously.”

The critical considerations for the Foot in the Door initiative were to develop a consistent approach to Real Estate engagement with the potential to be scaled across the state and easily adapted or duplicated nationally.

The Foot in the Door was then designed to:

  • Increase agent’s knowledge on the roles and function of Youth Homelessness Services
  • Provide an introduction to property managers in understanding trauma and youth homelessness

These aims would foster increased communication and relationship building between SHS and the real estate sector. Creating accessibility and uptake of the Rent Choice youth subsidy and improved access to the private rental market for those young people leaving SHS services for which it was suitable.

When reflecting on the learnings of existing work done across NSW we were able to see that the most common way the community sector has sought participation from Real Estate agents was through networking breakfasts in the hopes of building one on one relations.

When designing the Foot in the Door model, taking the elements of what was working well was necessary, however, considerations of the projects ability to be saleable, evaluated and duplicated were vital.

One of the early pieces of feedback in initial consultations with the Real Estate Industry was the need for the SHS sector to speak the same language as the Real estate agents. The first learning in this was something straightforward, in defining our audience; we quickly learnt we needed to be speaking to property managers and not in fact Real Estate Agents as so much of our work had previously referred to. Foot in the Door also had to produce content that could be delivered and relevant to any location across NSW, and simple enough to be understood by even Real Estate administration staff. Key partners for the Real Estate industry also provided input into the development of a potential delivery model. The Real Estate Institute of NSW being instrumental in the core piece of work focusing on training and skills. A secondary element would see a communication strategy created to promote relationships and information share.

What is Foot In The Door 

Foot in the Door is a face to face training program that provides up to date information and resources highlighting key focus area’s in language Real-Estate Agents can relate to.

The key topic areas of learning in the program for agents introduce agents to the challenges of youth homelessness. Exploring the financial and social impacts on young people and the broader community. This element was an important part of developing the ‘what’s in it for me’ for agents.

We realised that many agents didn’t have even a basic understanding of the role of the SHS services, so the possible benefits of working collaboratively with services was not within conception.

Resource videos of lived experience case stories, including genuine agent recommendations were created to demonstrate this highlighting the client, worker, agent relationships working cohesively to support new and existing tenants.

From an ethical perspective, it was important to include some introductory understandings around trauma practice, adapting the content to be trauma-informed leading to trauma informed tenancy management. This outlined theories on trauma triggers and understanding isolated incident, ongoing and vicarious trauma as most relevant for agents. It was hoped that with this knowledge agents could adopt a varied approach to daily interactions with tenants and potentially influence their workplace practice.

Knowledge about available Government Subsides Rent Choice Youth and tenancy guarantees was high on the topics of interest for property managers and this worked in favour when opening the conversation of potentially suitable properties to be offered for lease in promotion of new tenancies for SHS leavers. Property managers were also provided a short workbook with some details of the services available in their local area.

Delivery 

Delivery of Foot in the Door was done across a number of platforms.

Face-to-Face: training sessions were two-and-a-half hours each at five locations across NSW, Sydney, Liverpool, Orange, Port Macquarie and Armidale. Training was hosted in community or Government spaces, with morning/afternoon tea provided to encourage networking.

Webinar: Online delivery was hosted by REINSW with promotion and registrations being carried out through their database of agents and stakeholders.

Roadshow events: Annual CPD training events conducted by REINSW were an ideal opportunity to network with local agents and provided a wide reach for information dissemination.

Events: Significant events held within the Real Estate industry were important to develop the visibility of Foot in the Door concept. This included being an exhibitor Australian Property Management Expo with over 700 property managers in attendance.

Evaluations

This first stage evaluation focused on the relevance, concepts and delivery of the program to property managers, and the potential short-term outcomes of the of the work. The key questions the evaluation aimed to explore were: Are real estate agents satisfied with the Foot in the Door training? Does the Foot in the Door training contribute to changes in real estate agents’ knowledge and attitudes relating to homeless young people?

Property managers that participated in the training were firstly asked a series of questions to establish a baseline attitudinal scale. Secondly post training the same questions was asked along with reflections on training content and knowledge gained. The results outlined the biggest affect was an agent’s likelihood to connect with services after participating in Foot in the Door training. The evaluation also specified participation rates, 150 people attended Foot in the Door training: 43 face-to-face; and 107 through webinar. A further 118 Property Managers were reached through direct contact with the REINSW Roadshow events.

Overall participant satisfaction with the Foot in the Door program was high. The webinar retention rate was 100%; and face-to-face training achieved a net Promoter Score of 64. Post training feedback provided reflected that on average, Foot in the Door significantly improved attendee’s understanding and competency around youth homelessness.

The majority of Real Estate Industry attendees reported improvement in:

  • knowledge about youth homelessness (58%)
  • knowledge about trauma (50%)
  • ability to recognise behaviour associated with trauma (50%)
  • confidence to connect a tenant with a youth worker (75%)
  • knowledge of the subsidies and supports available to young tenants (67%)

Foot in the Door has achieved outcomes beyond what was expected in a short period of time: young people were connected with private rental opportunities; and Property Managers implemented new practices to support young tenants. Further opportunities to improve young people’s access to private rental tenancies were also identified through this pilot.

The Future of Foot in the Door

The outcomes realised through the project went beyond the boundaries of evaluation questions alone, as relationships with the property sector were built at every level and extended to introductions that saw larger new build developers with offers of available properties. With new knowledge of SHS systems, agent’s came to understand the majority of young people make consistent payments to reside in a SHS services, with majority of agents suggesting that a statement proving these payments included with a new tenancy application could possibly be viewed similarly as a rental ledger, somewhat solving this issue. This work also highlighted pockets of opportunity for the development of future work for Yfoundations. We witnessed, SHS engagement with private business, leading to conversations around improvements and engagement with temporary accommodation providers working towards better outcomes for clients, particularly relevant in regional areas. Another area for future exploration for Foot in the Door will look into the development of a broader tenant referral systems aimed at direct property management referral to SHS services. This initiative will identify at risk tenancies for early intervention long before young people are facing evictions or even presenting at services.

The future Foot in the Door program sees property managers and caseworkers working side by side in a co-supporting relationship with common goals and a deep understanding of the challenges being faced by all parties. This can only be done by continuing the availability of this training to the property sector and providing the platform to have impactful conversations with stakeholders such as REINSW. It is inevitable that through this process we will evoke long-term systemic change accoss the wider sector.

Foot in the Door challenges both the property sector and services to work in a truly progressive way and realise common goals and benefits that may not have been apparent until recently. At no other time in history could it be more accurately said “we are all in this together”.

A copy of the full evaluation report from 2019 is available at the Yfoundations website. For more information on the Foot In The Door program please contact Lauren Brown: lauren@yfoundations.org.au

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Housing and the Gig Economy

Over the past 30 years our lives at work have been changing radically, just as our housing system has been changing too. In both cases stability and predictability are giving way to flexibility – and that has generally meant less security and, increasingly, greater inequality. These changes are not a coincidence, both are driven by the same macroeconomic emphasis on deregulation; and increasingly insecurities at work are reinforcing problems in our housing system. In Australia, the link between employment and housing is particularly important. For much of the twentieth century we had a unique approach to jobs and housing that focused on what we might call pre-distribution rather than re-distribution. By regulating financial and labour markets Australia gave households more equitable access to jobs and housing without as much need for government spending.

In housing strong regulation of banks (including public ownership of banks), land release policies and preferential policies for home buyers all contributed to a high rate of home ownership (the most secure form of tenure) and low rate of private renting (the least secure). In employment, a formal commitment to full employment and centralized wage fixing gave workers, especially those with less bargaining power, a bigger say. In both areas, most of those policies have been dismantled.

The last 30 years have seen a dramatic increase in ‘non-standard’ forms of employment. This includes part-time jobs, and casual and contract employment. There are some real advantages to these changes for many – they allow workers to combine work and other commitments (like caring for family), and can mean more control over the work we do. But there is growing evidence that for many these changes just mean less security and less bargaining power.

The days of full employment have long since gone. Australia’s unemployment rate barely rose above two per cent for the three decades following WWII, it has barely fallen below five per cent since. Underemployment is also on the rise; more and more of those with a job want more hours than they are offered. And because jobs are more ‘flexible’, they are also less stable, meaning we often cannot be sure if we will still have a job in six months’ time. When you combine these trends with falling union membership it is hardly surprising that wages are barely growing, despite steady economic growth. Flat wage growth is now one of the major drivers of rising inequality.

We are now witnessing an increase in the ‘gig economy’, where workers are employed on a very short term basis. The typical examples are the rise of Uber to replace taxi drivers, and of Airtasker to source all sorts of jobs from ‘handy person’ work to editing and graphic design. A similar trend has emerged in housing as well – through AirBnB. Because all of these examples use the internet to change the way we do things, the gig economy is often linked to debates around automation, and the potential for automation to significantly reduce the number of jobs.

The gig economy and automation, however, are distinct trends. As Jim Stanford from the Centre for Future Work has argued, in most gig jobs new technology plays a relatively minor role, focused largely on connecting buyers and sellers. The handy person does much the same thing they did before. The Uber driver still drives a car to pick you up and drop you off. The service itself is almost identical – what has changed is the way we connect workers and consumers. This is quite different to changes in manufacturing, where the nature of the work itself has changed dramatically as computers and robots replace people.

So why are gig jobs growing so quickly if they involve so little change? One explanation is that these online platforms circumvent the rules we have developed to regulate labour and housing markets. Airtasker workers and Uber drivers are legally independent contractors (although this is increasingly being challenged). They pay all their own overheads and have to manage all their own cash flow. If you are only doing this on the side for a bit of spare cash, that’s fine, but if it replaces more stable jobs, then it is a problem.

So what does all this have to do with housing? Well it is driving some of the growing inequalities and insecurities we see in the housing market. As more and more people work in less stable jobs – either on short-term contracts, or as casuals or in the ‘gig’ economy – so they can find it harder to access stable housing. First, without a stable job it is difficult to get a mortgage, which means you cannot buy a house. Australia now has one of the highest household debt to GDP ratios in the world, driven almost entirely by mortgage debt. And unlike most other similar countries, debt is still rising after the financial crisis. Expensive housing and high debt make insecure work a much bigger problem.

Insecure work is just as much a problem for renters. If your income fluctuates every week then you are forced to manage your finances much more actively to ensure you can cover the rent in periods where you have fewer hours or no work. Low paid and underemployed workers are more likely to have insecure forms of employment, and also have less of a financial buffer when things get tight. It is not surprising this leads to a growing number of people scarifying essentials to pay the rent. The new world of insecure employment is also creating problems for the other policies we have to help those in need. Many government payments are highly targeted – meaning only those on low incomes get help, and that support is withdrawn as you start to earn income. This creates two big problems. Often working an extra shift leaves you with not much extra cash, because benefits are withdrawn at much higher rates than apply for taxation. Second, it can be hard to predict what you will earn, and government systems are often slow in responding. This can mean you lose benefits based on previous earnings just as you lose shifts – leaving you with no money, or even a debt.

For those in social housing, the problems are potentially even worse. Because governments have invested so little in social housing, while the demand for social housing has been growing, access is now very tightly targeted. Indeed, the main way governments have used to ‘reduce’ public housing waiting lists has been to make it harder to get on the list, not to provide more housing. As a consequence, only those on very low incomes generally qualify. If you are in social housing and you start to earn more, then you risk losing your home.

The strong eligibility rules are less important in a world of stable full-time jobs. If you get a new full-time job it will pay a reasonable wage and you know it will be fairly stable, so you can afford to move into other forms of housing. But in the new world of insecure work you might get a good contract and then find yourself without enough income soon after. If you lose your house in the process – forcing you into a much more expensive and less secure private rental market – then that is a huge loss. So big a loss, in fact, that many tenants might avoid initially taking work (especially if it is short-term, casual or contract). Ideally, those small ‘gigs’ would give people experience and connections to get more work. But our social housing system is not designed for the new world of work.

The problems of integrating ‘targeted’ social housing and insecure work are so bad that governments have been forced to try new things. One of the reasons for new models of housing for key workers is precisely this problem. The state government has been exploring other options too – it knows it is a problem – but the whole structure of housing provision is so deeply based on targeting it often ends up making things worse.

None of this is to argue that we can or should return to the pre-reform days of the 1960s. But the combination of changes in employment and housing are proving unfair and unsustainable. A gig economy of short term contracts might be feasible if people were guaranteed secure and affordable housing as a right. Strong targeting of social housing can make sense in a world of secure full time jobs. Taken together, however, insecure employment reinforces the worst aspects of our expensive and insecure housing system. For now, the fight for more secure work and a fairer housing system are bound together.

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