The Sociology of A Place To Call Home Part 1
by Sandshoe (Honshades)
I began writing this essay considering the issues raised by Tent City in Martin Place in Sydney.
I noted on the Mayor of Sydney’s website there are 60,000 on the public housing waiting list in NSW. That is around three times the number in SA reflecting a larger population pretty well.
There are 105, 200 plus people homeless in Australia. 24,000 are said to be homeless in Melbourne alone. Homeless sleeping rough in inner city Adelaide is up 44 percent from last year. 20,000 plus is well more than that now surely as a figure for Queensland (2014 latest) and similarly 10,000 in West Australia. The categories by age are frightening, the old, the young, the disabled, mentally ill and just plain broke. They need services, meals, supplies of blankets, nothing more urgent than a roof overhead that offers a sense of home.
There are the boarders, rooming house lodgers, people sleeping motels, on living room
couches. There is the population that has no choice as well but to rent, but wants security of tenure hoped for by home ownership and regard themselves as homeless. About 30% of housing in Australia is rental property. The Australian rental market is not the greatest. Renting imposes short term housing solutions on many who yearn to buy their own home. A common experience is of a battle ground.
One of the outcomes of having to move house repeatedly is stigma that is a close associate of prejudice and its poster child, discrimination. It evidences in ways beyond imagining. My experience as a renter who has lived in maybe a hundred different rental properties and housing includes a medical professional, a young doctor, at a surgery immediately above my then new workplace … local to my new rental address … tell me to stop doctor shopping.
Well and good if nothing ever happened again as bizarre as this was relative to my conservative history of medical presentation. Renters I know from years of experience walk a rocky road accessing housing and related services that have to be re-established each time they move houses, districts and, sometimes, towns and countries.
A segment of the population does not want to own a home because they cannot forsee meeting rates and maintenace costs, cannot perform essential maintenance themselves or do not want to be tied to a location view employment prospects, access visiting rights with children and so on. Rental is my mindset. My thinking about renting as a choice different from intention to own a home has progressively led me to consider the difficulties of the rental market as incitement to protest and revolution.
In whatever frame and howsoever revolution is visualised, middle- and low- income earners and those on less than the average wage logically cannot do anything else but oppose the levers driving land prices and home ownership costs upward to dangerous and dizzy height. Little people by which I mean compromised by unbridled capitalism are the bodies left behind in a debris of failed housing projects, compromised tradespersons, investment strategies gone maliciously wrong, of course mum and dad investors and so on, among them renters.
So many grubs with grubbers and so little time for everyday people who will not live fantastically long and healthy lives as a direct result of their straitened existences.
Housing policy that fails to spell out people need a roof overhead sounds paradoxical, but I believe we find that is so evaluating our everyday experiences, our friends’, families’, our struggles to keep a roof overhead as well as pay utilities, feed and clothe ourselves, access education and training, organise and attend social get togethers, go on holiday, keep our kids in the manner we would prefer them to some small degree or larger be accustomed, not to forget so many of us never see our kids of whatever age as we go round on the hurdy gurdy. Everyday people live a much-of-a-muchness hand-to-mouth existence that varies only by a few degrees house to house, suburb to suburb, town to town.
Neighbour to the next neighbouring house and further, if we are ourselves not poor by official definition or measured by relativity in a culture of haves and have-nots, we are in some way poor as a result of our personal circumstances, how many people we
provide for, charities we feel an obligation to support, sports and service clubs we give to and on it goes, hobbies, obsessions, conditioning and addictions included as we are only human that we seek the readies to pay for our Achilles heels too.
No question we are vulnerable. Unsure if there are more recent figures but I make it the Australian median weekly income is $662.00. Median rent is $335.00. To spell it out median rent is looking towards 50% of median income. Median household mortgage repayments (monthly) are $1,755 and not to neglect figuring in rates, rubbish, roof repairs and there is everything else.
20% of the population has an income less than $650. To spell it out median rent is more than 50% of median income.
Look at Newstart Allowance that I call the dole (unemployment) in disguise. Consider the ramifications for housing that 75% or so of recipients are single.
The base rate is $535.60 that increases to $579.30 for 60 year olds and over. Median rent is way over income and if the recipient owns their home they receive no assistance to maintain it. If the recipient is a renter they receive a payment of $132.20 maximum in rent assistance per fortnight. Consider median rent is $335.00 a week so a renter paying it has to find $538.00 a fortnight.
Do not go past go. On paper leastwise a Newstart Allowance recipient who is not a home owner is not housed. This is not a housing policy. All the rhetoric in the world and documents that detail allotments of health and transport services to suburban and regional and rural populations cannot change the undeniable.
If a single recipient of a Newstart Allowance owns a well furnished mortgage free brand new home with solar panels on their new roof overhead and new water tanks in
their back yard holding sufficient rainwater to see them through a year, they can breathe relatively easy they only have to secure everything else they need to eat and sleep well out of a payment of $267.50 a week. Best they own a brand new car that is under guarantee so they can shop around for food bargains and bulk buy ‘cupboard’ milk to pay for car registration, licence renewal, ambulance cover, houshold insurance, the rates and phone, internet and for clothing.
‘Of all households’, 36% of homeowners have a mortgage. Only 31% do not.
30% rent. Give or take a few percent here and there and there. The Great Australian Dream in its parallel universe for all that it is everyday unattainable in its form of ownership of a house that is a home with a yard, outlook and a barbecue with at least a blow-up paddle pool stored in the garage for the kids pulses yet like a power house … incredibly… even children witnessed by me first when I met High School sweethearts some years ago now who had a savings account for when they married and purchased a house, actualised The Dream.
What if this driver I visualise as so powerful, The Great Australian Dream for one when its actualisation is impossible needs a shake up to let some of our national psyche down off a hook it’s dangles from, helpless, frustrated, non-reactive, complacent even when a dream regardless it will not materialise engenders hope.
I was a home owner when I heard a University lecturer expound the premise in 1980 that rental housing is a potential choice not a default position and home ownership not all its cracked up to be. Until then I had never thought about rental from the viewpoint of choice.
How did I? To illustrate a thought process I need to provide a backdrop of personal experience.
Two years earlier I had moved with three young children from Queensland to live in Adelaide in South Australia with a partner. I was awarded a generous allotment of University of Adelaide subjects as representative of subjects I had completed at the
University of Queensland in Brisbane stretched over the years 1968, 1969 and 1974. By 1980 I was 30 with three young children and a classic sandstone home in a state of disrepair, a relationship to match.
I undertook to graduate to establish employment and sufficient income asap to relieve my husband-to-be and step-father to the three children of the load he was carrying as primary provider. I wanted to graduate certainly before my ageing parents did not see it through to know I had, but as well to help provide shelter, food, clothing etc for a projected larger family of children in the future.
Having completed two full time subjects in History at the U of A, I had achieved equivalence of one Major (three years study in the one discipline). To graduate now I had sufficient Minor subjects. I needed one other Major in a different discipline, I needed to choose one only further full-time subject from either the Politics Department or English Department given the U of A had awarded me equvalence of two years full-time study in each.
Politics seemed to offer a wider field of opportunity and the subject ‘Sociology of Power’ lept off the Handbook page.
I wanted to define myself as having power and understanding power. An interest in a career in Local Government rekindled especially grown originally out of ‘dropping-out’ from the Queensland Department of Education into the social tumult of the counter-culture in the 1960s. Skirmishes with local coucils and local Progress Committees was par for the course for alternates building home made houses.
I was surprised the class ‘Sociology of Power’ attracted only a handful of students. I had thought it so interesting a concept I presupposed a lecture theatre or auditorium. Classes were delivered in the intimacy of staff offices. Especially my outlook was introspective. I did not worry at any topic and draw attention. My no-frills kick-off position undertaking to pass the one subject was to graduate. I was compromised by fatigue and the demands of a domestic household.
Professor now, Jim Kemeny, grabbed my attention however when he presented the consideration that rental housing is a potential choice. He outlined what I heard as an
idealistic in part and ideological alternative dream of a rental housing sector of tenants and landlords bound by law and common respect for the other’s purpose and relationship to housing.
We each become sophisticated in our lives in one detail or other, usually in the most unexpected ways whereas my experience had been naive in this respect, dependant and certainly powerless in regard to bigger decisions of quality of lifestyle and domestic arrangement. That the Great Australian Dream had holes in it and neither did I dream it, but complied with it escaping persecution of one variety or another, had never crossed my mind. The presentation was a housing policy set in an understanding of diverse housing needs and expectations. This was a discussion about housing policy that dealt with considerations of financing, relativity and a practical analysis of what a Dream means, who its players are and their stakes, tenancy law, contemporary shortfalls in the law, a projected future in which tenants had maximum opportunity to participate in housing policy with non-intrusive real estate agents, that they would hold rights that are the proper rights of tenants investing in being housed in a maintained home, not begrudging paying rent, enjoying diminshed friction that was otherwise rife between landlords and agents and tenants. More Australians would settle in rental if the relationships between landlords and their agents and tenants were well legislated to establish equity and pride in tenancy, that the relationships were valued. If the Great Australian Dream was not the dominant driver of the housing market, born out of a cult of individualism and desire for a higher and higher standard of living, for freedom from tenant-landlord relationships, instead more people would opt to rent but be happy, to achieve the goals of their day-to day pursuits without housing stress.
to be continued…
Christina Binning Wilson