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AHURI asked, we answered

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The most recent brief from AHURI has put the spotlight on public and community housing providers and questioned their responsibilities regarding tenant wellbeing. And rightly so following the recent issues around Melbourne’s ‘public housing towers’ and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Australian public should now be more aware than ever of the vulnerable cohort living in public and community housing. This includes the elderly, single parents, people with a disability, people on very low incomes, or those with high and complex service needs. The public outcry over the apparent failure to recognise and provide the critical additional support this cohort requires for their wellbeing has been tremendous.

All social housing providers ­- the state authorities that provide public housing, and community housing providers that supply community housing - aim to provide efficient and quality property management services. However, community housing providers have additional regulatory and compliance requirements mandated through the National Regulatory System for Community Housing. These requirements ensure the consistency and quality of their services, resulting in a general higher standard of welfare and quality of life for community housing residents.

Our resident cohort in particular is disproportionately affected by health inequalities and experience multiple social challenges including isolation, anxiety and depression. They have experienced homelessness, housing insecurity and financial stress, and many are unemployed, socially isolated, and have poor access to services. So we take our obligation to support their wellbeing seriously and have deployed several programs to facilitate their access to individual or community supports that they require.

Our focus in supporting their wellbeing, especially over the past few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been in four key areas: minimising stress, building resilience, connecting with services, and increasing social inclusion. Here are a few ways we’ve gone about that.

The mental health and wellbeing of our residents, particularly at Havelock House, became a concern with an increase in stress and anxiety, anti-social behaviour, and interpersonal conflicts as a reaction to the isolating lockdown and other restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We successfully applied for $20,000 as part of the 2020 COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant Round, with the funding generously provided by Hands Across Canberra and The Snow Foundation. With these funds, we engaged a trained clinical counsellor to provide counselling services at Havelock House and extended the service to the Toora Women’s crisis accommodation.

It’s been transformational for our residents to have this service easily accessible to them at this time when they need it the most, with many returning time and again for more counselling. Just the other day, a resident left some handpicked flowers outside the counsellor’s door which gives us a good indication of how much they value this service. Our hope is that we can get additional funding to extend the program beyond October when the grant funding will be depleted.

We were also recently successful in securing a grant of $343,890 through the Australian Government Department of Health’s Sport and Physical Activity Grant Program. The funded program, Havelock Housing – Building Communities, will use fun physical and sporting activities such as walking, running, swimming, water exercise, gym, cycling, yoga and mindfulness to build the confidence of our residents and help them embrace more active and healthy lives. Bringing them together in this way will not only have great outcomes for their health, wellbeing, social participation and inclusion, but will also cultivate pathways to increased connection with the broader community.

Other activities that we run through our Community Development program provide supplementary wrap-around supports for our residents and have been well received. Our Wednesday ‘Chat Room’ sessions and stretch classes on Tuesdays provide an avenue to facilitate social connections, improve social skills, and give our residents an increased sense of belonging and self-worth.

So, to answer AHURI’s question of what the responsibilities are for social housing providers regarding tenant wellbeing, for community housing providers it goes beyond just property and tenancy management services and includes building communities, being neighbourly, and giving our resident community a sense of belonging and place.

Through implementing a program that supports the wellbeing of community housing residents and promotes their social inclusion, we can ensure that those who are most vulnerable in our community are well supported as they seek a secure future free from homelessness.