Community Housing Federation Rebuffs Legal Aid Claims
12 February 2015 at 9:11 am
Claims by Victoria Legal Aid which slammed the operations of Not for Profit community housing organisations have been described by The Community Housing Federation of Victoria (CHFV) as “misleading”.
The peak NFP housing body’s counter attack comes after Victoria Legal Aid claimed Not for Profit community housing groups were not being held to the same standards as the Government, despite offering a publicly funded service.
VLA pointed to a case in which it claimed an elderly pensioner was facing homelessness, in a case which it said raised questions about the responsibilities of publicly funded housing groups.
CHFV Chair Brett Wake said the CHFV welcomed robust debate about the rights of tenants in community housing – in this case, the safeguards that should apply to eviction processes.
He said he did not want to comment on the specifics of the case being taken to the Supreme Court by VLA.
“However we do want to respond on behalf of our members to some of the assertions made by Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) about community housing generally,” Wake said.
“Community housing providers do not seek to avoid being held to high standards of tenancy management and respect for tenant’s rights. Nor do they, as is suggested, consider themselves above standards of fairness or their decisions not open to review.
“Indeed, community housing providers are subject to a robust system of regulation covered by the Housing Act 1983.”
These include being:
committed to sustaining successful tenancies and using eviction as a last resort;
subject to rigorous government regulation on all aspects of their service, including tenancy management;
required to adopt fair and transparent tenancy management practices; and
have an internal complaints procedure in place, the outcome of which is subject to independent review by the regulator.
“Community housing has always operated within the rules of tenancy law and the processes of our specialist residential tenancies tribunal – the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT),” Wake said.
“In this case we understand that the tenant, through VLA, is seeking the application of new, additional safeguards against eviction, in addition to the VCAT process. What VLA neglects to mention is that claims rely on a new and emergent development in administrative and human rights law, which at this stage has only been applied to public housing. It remains unclear how these principles do, if at all, apply to community housing providers.
“It is also misleading for VLA to assert that community housing providers are publicly funded and therefore simply an outsourced version of public housing. Aside from modest recurrent funding to a transitional housing program, the ongoing operation of community housing’s long-term housing is largely supported by the rents paid by tenants. It generally receives no recurrent support from government.
“Providers themselves bear the risks of running the housing program, including lost rent, property damage and management of neighbourhood disputes.
“Indeed, given that community housing tenants report higher levels of satisfaction with the tenancy management service than public housing tenants, we would question whether it is necessarily preferable for community housing to simply adopt the same practices as public housing.
“We should avoid condemning community housing to replicating an already failing model of housing management.
“This is not to say that community housing is opposed to principles of procedural fairness and review of its decisions – only that the context in which this debate occurs must be properly understood.”
Wake said that at the heart of the issue of evictions from social housing is the desperate shortage of decent, affordable, secure and well-located rental housing in Victoria.
“This means that evictions have serious consequences for tenants, it being unlikely that such tenants will find secure housing elsewhere. It also reduces options for transfer and relocation for tenants in circumstances where this might reduce neighbourhood tensions or where housing is no longer meeting needs,” he said.
“The real solution is a social housing system which supports the aspirations and choices of its tenants, and allows for people to be given a second chance.”