Welcome to Week 15 of 40 Stories in 40 Weeks

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In this extract from our History co-authored by Sarah Harris and Don Baker, we meet one of our long-serving Tenant Reference Group members, Maree. Our Tenant Reference Group is a powerful example of the collegiate approach to social housing. By giving the tenants themselves a stake and a say in the organisation’s direction and future planning, the relationship between HHS and its client base is strengthened. 

Here one Tenant Reference Group member, Maree, shares her story:

“I found myself 50 and a single mum. My husband left suddenly and unexpectedly. My son was 16 at the time and my daughter was 13. We were renting through a friend of a family member at the time so we were getting reduced rent, but by the same token we weren’t getting any maintenance done and the house was falling down around our ears basically. But the rental market was at least $150 a week dearer than what we were paying in the old place and I couldn’t afford that on my own.

Then I heard about Haven or Loddon Mallee Housing as it was then. They first offered us a place in Kangaroo Flat. It was brand new, but the kids were not keen to leave their school and friends, so we said we would rather wait for something. They said: ‘Look, there is one lady on the swap list who wants to move from Eaglehawk. Drive past and see what you think’. It was in the right area for us. It was perfect. We moved in after Christmas and they painted it for us before then so it was all fresh.

“Haven are the best landlords I have ever had. We are in a bushfire area and when the bushfires went through we had someone from the office contact us the day after to make sure we were secure and that we didn’t need anything. They were first on the scene with the flood victims recently too. I cant recommend them highly enough.

“I work in public health and we tend to get people on the fringe that have almost dropped off into homelessness because of injury or stroke or losing their jobs. I understand how easily it can happen – I’m in that position too. If I was to suddenly become unwell I would have to go to Haven with my hat in my hands and say, ‘I can’t afford to pay the rent. Can we put it on hold?’ I have income protection but it doesn’t kick in for three months so I would have to be not getting any income for three months due to that illness before I started getting any money. When you are on a single income it’s difficult to make ends meet. My gas and electricity bill is about $100 or so dearer this quarter than they were this time last year. We have got a pay rise, and it’s meant to be back-paid to January, but it hasn’t come through yet. Meantime no one else is holding off on their bills. You have to find that extra money and it can come down to the wire for some of us.

“I was a bit blown away by the fact Haven wanted tenant feedback and invited us onto the TRG. It’s good to be able to have a say for people who are going to use the service. I get such a lot out of the meetings and feel listened to when I have an opinion. We got to go to a housing conference in Melbourne a couple of years ago and I found that fascinating as well. To me it would make sense to invest superannuation funds into something like affordable housing because it is pretty much paying for itself. You get people like me who can’t quite afford $300 a week but we can manage $240.

“Haven gave me the opportunity to give my kids a decent roof over their heads. They didn’t need to feel like they were second-class citizens because they came from a broken family. That was important in their mental health and security. It gives me the security of knowing I can stay here as long as I like and once the kids decide to leave home I can put my name down to swap to a one or two-bedroom unit. It’s fantastic to know I will never have to worry again. I know I have a roof over my head that I don’t own but it is mine for as long I want.”