A project to protect vulnerable women from homelessness is underway in Dapto as part of almost $90 million worth of new construction in the Illawarra to improve affordable and social housing availability, but with thousands in the region still in crisis, there is still more to be done to ensure everyone has a secure place to call home.
The Housing Trust has started construction on nine dwellings which will become affordable rentals for older women and women with children to create a safe and inclusive community for those most at risk of experiencing housing stress, with selected tenants to pay no more than 30 per cent of their household income on rent.
“We hear the phrase it takes a village to raise a child and we know that by having mixed tenure within properties and by having people living together in a community environment that outcomes are better,” Housing Trust Chief Operating Officer Amanda Winks said. “So we’re really pleased to be able to facilitate that in this property.”
It’s a project close to the heart of Housing Trust tenant Lyn Bailey who knows how difficult it can be to find secure housing after she went from owning a home to being unable to secure any rentals after retirement.
“It’s a situation that I never ever saw myself being in,” Lyn said. “I had a good job, I had a great life, we took overseas holidays, we had a good home, I had everything that I could want.”
After her divorce, Lyn found herself single at 58 and was forced to sell the family home. Despite having worked as a midwife all her life, she was denied a loan from the bank to buy another property, so she entered the rental market.
“I rented for the next 11 years and then at the age of 69 I decided to retire and at that point I realised if I retired, I would not be able to afford the rent I was paying at that time and so I started to look for something cheaper and realised there wasn’t anything too much cheaper than what I was paying.”
She moved in with her daughter, who was renting at the time, which saw her through a bowel cancer diagnosis and the pandemic, but soon the owners of the house wanted to sell and Lyn found herself once again with no housing security.
“I started looking for somewhere to rent and it was just horrendous, it was just a nightmare,” Lyn said.
There was no stock on the rental market and at open houses there were dozens of people vying for a spot, some offering well above the asking price.
“When I found myself in that situation at the time I was applying for the houses, I went to talk to someone about going on social housing and at that stage I was 72 and I was told there’s a 10-year waiting list.”
Fortunately, she saw an advertisement for a one-bedroom dwelling through the Housing Trust and was successful in her application.
But, even through her relief, she knew there were so many others who were still struggling.
“That first night I slept in that unit, instead of just lying there and thinking how fortunate and how grateful I am to have this beautiful place, I thought about the other 50 people, men, women, children, whoever that applied for that. And I thought, where are they sleeping tonight and how are they going to get by?
“It just lit a fire in me.”
After almost three years in her new home, Lyn is an advocate for the Housing Trust and helping to inform the community of the risk of homelessness to women over 55 (the fastest growing group of homeless in the country) and remove the shame from being caught in that situation.
“It’s to make the community aware, to get them to look at their neighbour or their sister or their parents and not to see someone who is homeless as someone who is not taking care of themselves, but to see them as a victim of the circumstances that they’re living in at the moment,” Lyn said.
This latest project is estimated to cost $5.5 million with more than $4 million to be delivered through a federal funding grant distributed by Wollongong City Council.
“A lot of time and effort has gone into what’s the best way; there was a grant round and Housing Trust received $4.34 million in that first round,” Deputy Mayor Tania Brown said. “It’s such a shame that through many forces it’s taken this long to come to the sod turning when we know we have an affordable housing crisis in this country.”
And although there is limited funding, councillor Brown agreed that application processes, although vital, could drag out and make projects more difficult to deliver.
“The problem we’re facing at the moment is that everything costs a lot more, so those delays which added some financial costs back then now add so much more because the cost of everything has gone up which is such a tragedy.
“We need to be turning these things around through all of these processes a lot quicker.”
The Housing Trust is pushing forward with a number of new constructions, with the $62 million Northsea Project, which will provide 27 homes, a mix of affordable and social housing, expected to be completed next year, and a $20 million development on Dudley Street in the design phase.
But there are only so many new developments possible. The Housing Trust is calling on tenants to lend a hand and consider reaching out to the organisation when renting their own property.
“We are there every step of the way to manage the tenancies, we have such strong partnerships in place with local support services and our real vision and our real approach to managing tenancy is making sure that a tenancy is sustainable and that means if something happens or if circumstances change in a family that we’re actually making sure that those people are linked with other services if needed to be able to help them through that period of time,” Ms Winks said.
“Take a look at the people around you that are actually experiencing housing stress, there’s very much a face to that of somebody who lives next door to us and someone that we all know.”
To find out more visit the Housing Trust website.