Learning from lived experience – I never though it would happen to Me
Joy, Community Housing renter, BeyondHousing
First published in the May edition of the Council to Homeless Persons’ Parity magazine.
I was born and raised in a small town in rural north-east Victoria. I have seen it grow, shrink during droughts and the recession and the lure of big city life for younger generations, and then grow again with the popularity of living on acreage and the rural lifestyle. But I’ve never seen the despair over housing that’s happening now and for the past few years since the start of the COVID‑19 pandemic. I certainly never thought I wouldn’t have secure housing and that I’d be spending the last decades of my life only as a visitor to the place I called home.
Looking back there were signs that the shortage of housing was starting to bite, especially during the COVID era. Our local GP retired and not only did the town struggle to get another doctor, but locums had nowhere to live because houses for busy people who didn’t have time to attend to the big blocks typical in our town were as rare as hen’s teeth.
Suddenly our sleepy hollow was more popular than ever to visit, to live in and to invest in and I watched as house prices went up, getting $200,000 and $300,000 more than would have been possible six months prior. I watched as everything else went up too. Electricity, food, and the like, including my own rent payments. Everything went up but not my support pension.
My ailments and illnesses meant making a 90-minute round trip to the closest regional centre several times a week for medical and specialist appointments, and I was struggling to pay for petrol alongside medical costs and rent.
The house I rented was old, hard to heat, even harder to cool and needed extensive repairs, but my garden was beautiful. To borrow the words of the support worker at BeyondHousing, the house was simply unfit for the purposes of housing a human.
When I went to BeyondHousing for support to find somewhere to live, I still wasn’t convinced that
I fit the profile of the people they helped. I’m in my 70s now and never thought the words homeless would apply to me. I thought that meant you had to be on the street without a roof, not that you were paying more than half of your income on rent and your roof was more than a bit shabby. I still struggle to think of myself like that, and I felt embarrassed that anyone would think I’d done the wrong thing to get to a point I needed this help.
But the team at BeyondHousing, from the private rental support team to my new Property Manager, made me feel like there was hope, that I was just a renter who needed somewhere safe and affordable to live and helped me understand that sadly there are just so many people, particularly older women, who are facing the same kind of housing crisis I was.
They gave me support to get onto the Victorian housing waitlist as a priority applicant and helped me look for more suitable private rental housing. It was a worrying time, getting nowhere with rental applications. But when I got the call to say they had a BeyondHousing property, I was so relieved.
It’s been eight months since I moved into this unit. I still don’t think I deserve this home more than anyone else, despite reassurances. It has given me my quality of life back and peace of mind. It’s nice to have that sense of community and neighbourhood that I had thought I had left behind when I moved to this bigger regional town. All the tenants who live here in the other BeyondHousing units look out for each other. It’s certainly a good feeling knowing I can stay here forever.
I urge people to understand that Community Housing is a lifeline, that anyone could end up needing it and that we are just everyday people who need somewhere safe to live, in rental housing we can afford. We need everyone — communities, governments, big business — to support organisations like BeyondHousing to build more houses. Not just here in bigger towns, but in the small rural ones too so maybe the next person in my situation has the choice to stay in the place they have called home all their lives, and that new people who want to live and work there can too.