1. Explanatory statement
Tenancy support programs are prevention and early intervention initiatives aimed at preventing people at risk of eviction from losing their tenancy and becoming homeless. Typically the programs are short term and provide financial relief in the form of bond loans and rental grants, subsidies and relief.
Activities which are common in the programs include: support to maintain property, education in roles and responsibilities of tenant and landlord, assisting with concessions for and establishment of utilities, information for tenant and advocacy on tenant’s behalf, monitoring of lease and payments, attendance with tenant at property inspections and intensive tenancy support.
2. A real world example
One example of a tenancy support program is South Australia’s Private Rental Liaison Program, which provides advice, referral and practical assistance to private renters to help them find a property, understand their rights and responsibilities as a private tenant and link them to relevant community and social supports. It also provides assistance with bonds, rent in advance and rent in arrears.
The program includes specialised Private Rental Liaison Officers (PRLOs), whose role is to act as brokers, mediators and, in some cases, managers in the rental relationship between tenants, landlords and real estate agents, in order to provide sustainable (i.e. stable and claim-free) housing options and solutions for their clients. Targeted on-going supports were also provided for six months to tenants supported by state bonds whose tenancies were ‘at risk’ of failure.
3. Scope of the practice
The South Australian Housing Trust 2015 annual report details that in 2014–15 the Private Rental Liaison Program received 1,330 referrals, with 1,267 customers meeting the eligibility criteria for the program.
To be eligible for the program, applicants must:
- lack financial skills but have sufficient financial resources, and be willing to engage with the appropriate supports (e.g. financial counselling) to address their issues
- experience socio-cultural issues and need advocacy or support to overcome difficulties with landlords or real estate agents
- lack the social skills to negotiate with landlords or real estate agents
- have no rental history
- be renting through the supportive housing program, or renting public housing and seeking private rental accommodation.
In Victoria, the Housing Establishment Fund (HEF), jointly funded by the Victorian and Australian governments under the National Affordable Housing Agreement, provides financial help to eligible people with a housing-related hardship. People apply through a community organisation to the Fund for a range of assistance measures including bond loans, rent in arrears, rent in advance and emergency accommodation.
The HEF also provides property and tenancy management; initial assessment and planning; housing information; referral to other homelessness and allied services; and housing advocacy to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
While it is not possible to isolate the costs of the Private Rental Liaison Program, the SA Housing Trust 2014–15 annual report records that the cost of providing Private Rental Assistance (i.e. providing financial assistance such as bonds and rent grants, information, referral, advocacy and counselling to eligible households in the private rental market) was $33.3 million. This cost included $19.7 million paid out in grants, bonds and subsidies. However, $9.6 million was returned (which included the repayment of grants and bonds), which meant the total cost of the Private Rental Assistance program was $23.7 million.
Of those clients who applied for the program, 548 customers (43.2 per cent of eligible customers) successfully secured a private rental dwelling housing under the guidance of a Private Rental Liaison officer. If part of the rationale for the program is to divert people off public housing waiting lists then the program can be seen as effective.
Staff from South Australia’s Private Rental Liaison Program have identified a number of barriers limiting the program’s effectiveness, including:
- absence of affordable rental housing, which requires sending clients into marginal accommodation/tertiary homelessness in (often overcrowded) sharing arrangements, boarding/rooming houses and caravan parks.
- discrimination, stigma and stereotyping, especially for Indigenous Australians, clients with a refugee background, survivors of domestic violence and clients living with a disability (in particular a mental health condition).
- lack of appropriate built form housing, especially for large family groups, cultural obligations or disability needs.
- Lack of clients’ ‘rental readiness’. The program was not resourced to provide wrap-around services and saw clients with high and/or complex needs as needing social housing accommodation.
- limited security of tenure (a standard 6 or 12 month lease has health and wellbeing impacts for many clients, especially older clients).
5. Guide to evidence
Evidence on the effectiveness of tenancy support programs is found in AHURI Final Report no. 263 The role of private rental brokerage in housing outcomes for vulnerable Australians.