Rooming House Reform ‘Confusion’ - Review
3 July 2014 at 12:19 pm
A new report into the state of rooming house reform in Victoria has found widespread confusion about the roles of different regulatory bodies in relation to registration and regulation of rooming houses.
Council to Homeless Persons (CHP) Rooming House Project 2014 also found that specialist homelessness services continue to rely on rooming houses as a housing option for people experiencing homelessness.
“For people working in specialist homelessness services, there continues to be an ethical dilemma about placing a vulnerable individual into a potentially unsafe rooming house,” the Review said.
“However, the housing affordability crisis means that there are often limited alternatives.
“Rooming houses have long been used as an accommodation option for individuals experiencing homelessness. As the demographics of the homeless population changed, combined with a shortage of affordable housing, the face of residents of rooming houses also altered dramatically.”
Concern about the standards of rooming houses has been around since the early 1980’s, however, it was not until two people died in a Melbourne rooming house fire in 2006 that the Victorian Government made a concerted effort to improve the safety and amenity for residents.
The review said that in 2009, 40 organisations, including CHP launched the Call This A Home? campaign, petitioning for safe rooming houses in Victoria. The campaign brought together peak bodies, organisations and individuals, to lobby government to change legislation and introduce minimum standards for rooming house accommodation.
As a result the Government established a Rooming House Taskforce chaired by Victorian MP Martin Foley, which made 32 recommendations, all of which were supported by the government and many have now been implemented.
“CHP strongly supported these reforms to improve the quality and amenity in rooming houses. Despite these changes homelessness services continue to report poor standards and exploitative behavior by landlords,” the Review said.
“This project has reviewed the implementation of the rooming house reforms in order to identify areas for further work and improvement.
“The project found widespread confusion about the roles of different regulatory bodies in relation to registration and regulation of rooming houses. In navigating the rooming house reforms and assisting tenants to enforce their rights, services must be aware of the issues in question and which authority is responsible.
“The project also found that specialist homelessness services continue to rely on rooming houses as a housing option for people experiencing homelessness. For people working in specialist homelessness services, there continues to be an ethical dilemma about placing a vulnerable individual into a potentially unsafe rooming house.
“However, the housing affordability crisis means that there are often limited alternatives.”
Key recommendations of the Review include:
1. Implement the ten outstanding recommendations from the Rooming House Taskforce Report including:
Allowing third parties to take rooming house matters to VCAT, where that third party can prove standing as a representative body.
Trialing alternative accommodation models such as a ‘community hotel’.
Investigate new funding models for building housing for single people.
The State Government work with Federal Government agencies to ensure payments are only being made to registered operators.
2. Support ongoing education for Special Homelessness Services (SHSs) and local councils
There is widespread confusion within both the SHSs and local councils around the regulation of rooming houses. To make sure that rooming house reforms work both in principle and practice, there is a need for ongoing education for those working with people in rooming houses and those working with rooming house operators.
3. Test rent capping initiatives with SHSs
Each year homelessness services spend millions of dollars on rooming houses, caravan parks and motels as emergency accommodation. This represents significant purchasing power that could be used to moderate the excessive rent increases seen in rooming houses in recent years. A rent cap on rooming house costs could be trialed by homelessness services in a specific geographic area.
4. Invest in ongoing outreach to rooming houses
When people are referred to a rooming house as a crisis accommodation option, assertive outreach and follow up should be provided as part of routine practice. This
allows services continue to work with consumers to secure appropriate long term housing. This may be through private rental or social housing. In both cases, assertive outreach can assist residents to complete relevant housing applications.
5. Increase the supply of affordable housing options
Individuals and households often seek accommodation in the rooming house sector as they have no other housing options. Ultimately investments in affordable housing will be required.