Publish Date:7 December 2022
Sustaining Tenancies: The importance of prevention
We know that homelessness is a difficult cycle to break. For Government and social service providers, the best way to end homelessness is through prevention and safety nets. This means catching people at risk of tenancy loss, so they don’t end up sleeping rough.
It is critical to focus on sustaining current tenancies for those on the edge of becoming homeless. This is because it is easier to keep people in a home than finding them a new one, particularly here in Tāmaki Makaurau. The Sustaining Tenancies programme is therefore an important piece in our kete to ending homelessness. Kicked off in 2017 as a trial, Sustaining Tenancies has expanded as part of the Aotearoa Homelessness Action Plan. The programme provides 1,550 places per year for three years through to June 2023.
Data from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment tells us that approximately 7000 applications lodged by landlords across Aotearoa in 2021 ended in termination or possession disputes. This indicates that the potential need to support whānau to sustain their tenancies outweighs the funding available.
The same data shows that rent arrears are the major driver of tenancy disputes. In Tāmaki Makaurau alone, there were more than 30,000 such disputes from 2017 to 2021, and 10,000 cases where the landlord had issued a rent arrears breach notice.
Legislation in New Zealand has tended to favour ‘swift eviction’ when a tenant hasn’t paid rent. This is despite rent arrears being largely a consequence of poverty, rather than poor tenant behaviour. While many landlords are sympathetic when they know their tenant is struggling for cash, that doesn’t mean they can or will forgo rent (particularly when they’re paying a mortgage). So, instead of evicting these people and forcing them to face homelessness, we need to offer them support.
The ability to sustain tenancies is linked with lower rates of homelessness. Financial help is just one side of the coin. The other is addressing tenant behaviour and supporting their needs. Two major findings that are echoed across research on sustaining tenancies are that:
- tenancy loss often goes hand-in-hand with antisocial and demanding behaviour. This generally arises when social housing tenants face complex issues and needs, and are lacking support to deal with these challenges; and that
- a broad range of resources and support services for at-risk tenants are effective in achieving tenancy sustainment.
Those most at risk of ending up on the street have often experienced domestic abuse and often struggle with mental health and/or addiction issues. These experiences are known drivers of antisocial behaviour. Research shows that tailored support for such people is critical for them to be able to stay housed in the long-term. We also know this to be true from our own experience.
Sustaining Tenancies providers work with individuals or whānau to create a tailor-made plan to help them. This includes advocacy with landlords, support with social/health services, budgeting and life skills coaching. The reality is that with housing supply so tight, it is smarter to target funding at preventing tenancy loss. Once someone has been evicted from a home, they face a long wait to get a new one, and the implications of that can be disturbingly life changing.
We work on being able to identify those most at risk of eviction as early as possible. This means getting out into our communities through targeted outreach and tackling the shame that some whānau still feel about asking for help. It’s pleasing to know the Government is looking at how to ramp up outreach programmes. – We’re already out there doing this as part of our mahi, and we want to continue to help whānau keep their homes and flourish, in any way we can.