An unacceptably large number of public housing tenants do not feel safe in their own homes because of the conduct of their neighbours. The problem is widespread across the state and of particular concern for older women, single mothers, people with disabilities and people from a non-English speaking background.
The problem certainly isn’t new, however in recent months the number of people coming to me with complaints about it has increased dramatically. I recently got a report that the state government housing provider Housing NSW (HNSW) had given tenancies to two young men with substance abuse issues and a history of violent behaviour in a building where all the other occupants were frail elderly women. These women can hear the sound of the young men’s aggressive behaviour from inside their apartments and are afraid to even walk the hallways of their own building at night.
Another elderly lady with limited mobility has become cut off from her family for similar reasons – her son won’t bring her young grandchildren to visit as he fears for their safety in the high rise building that she lives in which is populated, once again, by people with aggressive behaviour issues. I’ve also recently been told of a young pregnant woman being repeatedly assaulted by her neighbours and a woman with a physical disability housed in an estate where all the other occupants are men, many of whom have mental illnesses that cause them to act very aggressively at times.
These are just a few examples of the recent cases that have been bought to my attention of people living in fear in their own homes because of the poor housing allocations made by HNSW or its contractors. Everyone deserves a home, including people with metal illnesses, substance abuse issues or who have done time in prison. However it is essential that when these people are assigned to homes consideration is given to who their neighbours are and what needs they have. At the moment HNSW does not seem to do this at all – their “anti-social behaviour strategy’ is hardly a strategy at all and they have no official policy to address the issue.
While HNSW has detailed procedures for moving tenants who are in danger in their current homes they have no policies to prevent these situations from arising in the first place. Prevention is far better than cure. For elderly people or people with poor English language skills the process of applying for a transfer can be very daunting, many people worry that they will be evicted if they make a fuss and whoever you are, the process takes a long time. HNSW needs to house people appropriately in the first place instead of waiting for a problem to crop up then going about the slow, complicated process of moving people.
I’ll be the first to admit that this issue isn’t a simple one. One of the principles underlying the creation of public housing communities is social mix. You don’t want to concentrate too many disadvantaged people in one spot lest you give rise to many more social problems. Ultimately the solution will likely involve housing those with the potential to cause problems alongside those who are the least vulnerable in areas where support services and security are on hand.
It will also involve the creation of more seniors communities and other areas where groups of people more comfortable around others of their own demographic can be housed together and mutually support each other.
HNSW needs to seriously look at these issues and come up with a comprehensive set of policies for allocating people to properties in a way that creates as positive an environment as possible for all those involved.
In the 21st century it shouldn’t be acceptable for people to be living in fear like so many are. We all deplore domestic violence for this reason but seem to ignore the people who, in their own homes, are afraid of violence from elsewhere.