The Cost of Rising Disability Housing Rental
14 July 2015 at 10:21 am
Why are disability housing rentals increasing at the same time as increases are being delivered to top level management service providers, asks author and disability researcher Dr Peter Gibilisco.
Let me begin by saying that we already pay a substantial amount of our pension, about 55 per cent, for rent. Now keep in mind that the source for most of this rent money is therefore the Aussie taxpayers, and in their payment of taxes I would have thought they wanted to support a welfare policy of social equity, recognition that we are equal citizens of this nation.
All said and done, my question is this: why is the line-item of rent increasing beyond most client’s affordability? We get around $1,000 per fortnight from the disability support pension, and if we pay approximately 70 per cent of that in rent, it leaves us with $300 for toiletries/medication, and other off the cuff expenses. I also pay $180 per month to Telstra internet and utilities bill. Who can actually live with these kinds of regular costs? Could you do it?
As you might be aware there has recently been an increase in top level management in our service provider, and I suspect this is reflected in changes in other places, too. So the money that is meant to be spent on the care of people with disabilities has found its way, once again, into the hands of upper management. Is this how monies for the care of people with disabilities is best spent?
So therefore my question is this: why is rent increasing? Is it staying at its current level and if not why is it going beyond that norm?
Now if this increase is justified as unavoidable we might have to ask what we receive in return for the increase. Rent is problematic; it has a potential, if it is not handled justly, of giving the impression that we residents are just a commodity to keep the welfare service show on the road. It must be economically justified because it is a residence that is lawfully subsidized to house people with disabilities. And most who are on the disability services pension require 24 hour support. So it is not just a monetary, commodity, thing. The raison d’etre of the entire enterprise demands that due respect is transparently obvious.
Let me speak of my own circumstances. I live in a Melbourne care facility for people with disabilities. Of recent times there have been major changes to my lifestyle in this place because of both overcrowding and understaffing. So we keep our eye on the decrease in the ratio of disability support workers to clients that has been evident in recent times.
And so, here there are four staff for nine clients. It is the service provider’s policy that two of these support workers must always be present in the house during the active part of the day, to assist with routine matters and transfers.
But then the impact of this is that it significantly constrains the community access of clients. Let me give an example of this:
My birthday was in June and there were no staff to assist me in getting community access. My preference for this usually involves food in some way, shopping or movie watching. Even though the experience of movie watching for me is a dwindling pleasure, due to increasing blindness, going to the movies has allowed me to find a kind of comfort in joining with others in this public enjoyment.
That was when we only had eight clients in the house and now we have nine clients in the house. One wonders whimsically is this an add-on to our rent increase?
Now such lack of opportunity to have and to form accessible community engagement is a starting point for what I feel is a social impoverishment. I am speaking here as a sociologist. Social policy somehow lets us down when we need it most, when our rubber should be hitting the road. Sorry for the joke but this is not funny.
We pay well over half of our pension in rent, and the service provider now seems to have decided that this is not enough, and so they wish to increase it.
Okay, granted the service provider is a Not for Profit service provider that pays all funds it receives back into the organisation. My provocative question is this: why can they not reduce funding from other parts of their bureaucracy, from their management hierarchy?
The world is changing – we all know that. Stringencies are increasing like a rolling tide. But do we need to take money from pensioner-clients to pay bills that the service provider never anticipated such as overcoming the deficit in rental income?
Where was the forward planning when the service provider accepted the contract to house us clients?
(This article was written with the assistance of Bruce Wearne, Steffan Irugalbandara and Peter Cross.)
About the author: Dr Peter Gibilisco is an Honorary Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition called Friedreich's Ataxia, at age 14. The disability has made his life painful and challenging. He rocks the boat substantially in the formation of needed attributes to succeed in life. For example, he successfully completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne, this was achieved late into the progression of the disability. However, he still performs research with the university, as an Honorary Fellow. His new book is called The Politics of Disability.