Ending homelessness in the ACT

29 July 2019

Last week YWCA Canberra’s CEO, Frances Crimmins participated in the TEDxCanberra Salon event, “No Place Like Home”. The event focused on why the ‘home’ is integral to human security, a functioning society, and overall health and well-being. It also explored what the concept of home means to different people from different walks of life. The below article is an excerpt from Frances’ talk, which followed a screening of the Hidden Women short documentary.

I am a proud third generation Canberran.

When I moved out of home at 19 I was working in hospitality. I could afford to rent my own place and had a choice about the kind of property I wanted to live in.

I chose a bedsit that cost me $65 per week. Like many young people, I worked two jobs to pay my rent and save for a deposit to buy a house.

In my early 20’s I had saved enough to purchase my first home.

Fast forward to 2019: Canberra is acknowledged as one of the most livable cities, but not for everyone. A livable city requires a diverse range of housing options. Housing that is appropriate for your needs and allows you to participate and be included in your community.

I still love living in Canberra. I refuse to accept that in my community, 30 years later, a 19-year-old will struggle to find a rental property, then struggle to pay rent.

I refuse to accept that many young people will never be able to move into their own home either rental or ownership, if that is their wish.

I also refuse to accept that today, this is an issue for people of all ages – not just those getting started at building a life, but those retiring.

Maree, Joan and Gwenda’s story in ‘Hidden Women’ is an important story to hear. I have had the privilege of meeting these women, and this evening, I acknowledge their stories and thank them for their courage in sharing their stories at this important time in Canberra’s housing history.

While each of these women’s story is unique, the number of Canberrans and the diversity of people in housing stress is growing and the commonality is a lack of affordable housing options in Canberra.

We needed to find a way to disrupt the increasing unaffordability of the private rental market and bring rents down in our city. Did you know that Canberra is now the most expensive city to rent a home in all of Australia?

As CEO at YWCA Canberra we contribute to providing affordable rent in Canberra through providing 17 affordable tenancies. But this is not enough to support the 26,000 Canberrans in significant housing stress who are at risk of becoming homeless.

Many of these people are caught in the middle: they earn too much to qualify for public housing, but not enough to meet the current rent prices.

This means that every day they are making tough choices: forgoing a meal for themselves so their children can eat, choosing not to see a doctor for a health concern. All because they need to pay more than 30% of their income on rent.

This should not be something anyone in Canberra should experience.

But, what if I told you that you could contribute to the affordable rental housing options?

Over the last few years, I have looked at what other jurisdictions, both in Australia and internationally, were doing. We have engaged philanthropic funders, talked to experts in the property industry, established a legal structure, and developed a business model to come up with a solution.

We haven’t got the silver bullet, but we have discovered one option that you could be part of to increase the affordable rental options in Canberra.

Rentwell – the ACT’s first charitable property management service, a social enterprise that is delivering affordable rental housing to Canberrans in housing stress.

Through Rentwell, we manage and lease privately owned investment properties in the ACT at below 75% market rate, providing affordable housing to people who are struggling to maintain tenancies in the mainstream market.

But why would someone want to rent their investment property out at below market rates?

The property owners we’ve brought on board since our launch in May are doing this for one main reason and are supported by the levers we have put in place:

The reason is philanthropy: they want to help their fellow Canberrans that are struggling, even if it means they will derive a smaller income from their investment. They want to make a tangible difference to housing in Canberra.

The levers we have put in place are significant. Firstly, thanks to the ACT Government, they can apply for a full land tax exemption when they sign up with Rentwell. In order to be exempt from land tax you must rent your property through a registered community housing provider, which YWCA Canberra is, and lease your property at less than market rent.

Secondly, YWCA Canberra is an approved charity and because of this, we have a class ruling from the ATO to provide a tax-deductible gift receipt for the donation of any market rental income foregone. So, you are making a donation to a local charity that is directly contributing to Canberran’s in housing stress.

Thirdly, property owners sign a head lease agreement with YWCA Canberra, not the tenant. This provides them with assurance they will receive their rental income.

So, considering the philanthropic reason an investor might want to be involved and the financial levers we have managed to set up, what exactly is the lost income for someone in the 43% income tax bracket on a one-bedroom apartment? It is approximately $20 per week; a few cups of coffee, a take away pizza. The income foregone on a modest three-bedroom house, is approximately only $50.

Two months in, it’s early days, but the warm and enthusiastic reception we’ve had from property owners and their stories about why they want to sign up to Rentwell are nothing short of incredible.

Our first property owner is happy for me to share her story of why she chose to participate in Rentwell. Many years ago, this person found herself and her children homeless. Now she is in a position to support another family.

Her investment property is rented to a single parent family. Mum has been able to return to full time work and her child is now attending the local primary school. W

e are a wealthy city, and many of us have the capacity to donate $20 per week.  By removing housing stress and the ever-present fear of eviction gives people back their agency, their ability to contribute to their community.

This continuous flow of altruistic property owners reinforces my belief that in Canberra we fundamentally want to support each other – and when we are in a position to do so, we will help lift each other up.

In terms of tenants, we’ve been inundated with enquiries and are busy matching single mums, older women, young families and mature age students to our homes.

These people are everyday Canberrans who are on modest incomes, struggling to afford the mainstream rental market. These are people like, Maree, Gwenda and Joan who have made their homes in our property.

As a result, they maintain a dignity in their home and pay their rent on time, because when your rent is within your income threshold you pay it. Not rocket science.

So, you can you join us in creating a Canberra, which in truth is a most livable city – where everyone has an affordable, secure, and appropriate place to call home.

We are currently on track to exceed our goal of tenanting 25 rental properties by the end of this year, 50 by the end of next year and 150 properties by the end of 2021.

This is 150 families housed, children at school, parents able to return to work, people able to retire with dignity.

Our team is taking calls from property owners and prospective tenants every day.

It is now up to people like you, who are or who may know property investors in Canberra. You can join us and take a practical, tangible and life-changing step for your city, your community.

We do not live in a ‘Canberra bubble’, we are a community of people. We can do things differently. Become a philanthropic investor so we can give everyone a place to call home.

Find out more about Rentwell.

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