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Domestic violence, homelessness and housing: bringing real estate agents into the loop

What could a professional development workshop for real estate agents have to do with social justice? A great deal, if it’s the Supporting Sustainable Tenancies workshop held in Caboolture in December 2020.

This event, hosted by Mercy Community, was the brainchild of Renee Craft, Team Manager, Mercy Community Domestic and Family Violence Program, and Cheryl Casserly, Local Level Alliance Facilitator within Mercy’s Family and Child Connect program.

Housing has been identified as a key issue in the Moreton Bay region, and is something both Renee and Cheryl have been hoping to address.

“There’s an intersection between DV and housing and homelessness,” said Renee.

“It can be incredibly hard for women to get an opportunity to obtain a private rental. They may have been in a long term abusive relationship and have never had a rental history; they may be in a rental property currently but the perpetrator has damaged the house and the person experiencing domestic or family violence has been put on a black list; maybe the woman has just left a refuge and has no financial means; or maybe she’s been a stay-at-home mum for many years on Centrelink, and from the perspective of a property manager, she might not be a desirable tenant.”

Renee and Cheryl have been working to address this gap in service delivery.

Building relationships

Thanks to a 10K social justice grant Religious Congregations of Queensland in 2019, Renee and Cheryl were able to put their ideas into action.

“We decided that we really wanted to build relationships with our local real estate agents,” said Renee. “We want real estate agents to know that support services do exist out there, and that we can provide holistic intervention so that people who have experienced domestic or family violence are either able to maintain their tenancy or are supported into a new tenancy.”

The first workshop, just before COVID-19

The first Supporting Sustainable Tenancies workshop was held in the Moreton Bay region in late 2019. Mercy Community partnered with the Department of Housing and Public Works and had 32 local real estate agents come along. The event provided an opportunity for agents to learn about the reconnect program and housing support products.

“We were supported by CADA, Centre Against Domestic Abuse, which is our specialist Domestic Violence agency, to come along and talk a little bit about domestic violence and what are some of the impacts and challenges facing victims and survivors of DV to be able to get their own home,” said Renee.

“We also had various housing support service providers there, we had team members from Mercy’s Family and Child Connect (FaCC) service. It was an opportunity for agents to ask questions around our service and what was available.”

The first workshop was really well received, with real estate agents asking for more information around how to recognise and respond to domestic violence, as well as what services were available.

Shifting the conversation around tenants in difficulty

Raising the awareness of real estate agents about domestic family violence could have a positive impact. Property Managers, in particular, have a unique opportunity to go into a tenant’s home and if they notice indicators like punch marks in the wall or financial control, they may be able to shift their conversation. Instead of a punitive approach, informed real estate agents will be able to connect tenants with services that could provide some assistance. Both Renee and Cheryl stress that real estate agents wouldn’t be advised to step outside their role, merely to enquire if tenants would like to be provided with the contact details for specialist support services.

Bringing the community together to help

Already, the workshops have brought together many service providers. These include the Salvation Army crisis accommodation, Coast to Bay social housing, RentConnect, the Department of Housing, Keys for Early Intervention in Homelessness Service (KEIHS), Homestay and real estate agencies such as Richardson & Wrench.

“We’re seeing how we can all come together as a community and support those people who need it most,” said Cheryl. “It’s a pretty big collaboration.”

“We’ve done a lot with not much, so what we could do with actual resources could be pretty amazing!” Cheryl said.

Supporting Sustainable Tenancies, December 2020

The final workshop of the year was another step toward greater collaboration and bringing the community together to address a clear need. The event included a moving story from a survivor, provided as a recording by the Salvation Army, and presentations from Scott Lachmund of real estate agents Richardson & Wrench; Jacque Lachmund, CEO of CEO Challenge; Holly Manger, Centre Against Domestic Abuse (CADA); and Jet Xavier, keynote speaker

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