Women's Wellness Series Discrimination in the Housing Sector

Spotlight on Discrimination in the Housing Sector

As a woman of colour and a child of Immigrants, my family is familiar with the instability of the housing market and real estate agencies prejudices towards people who are racially different to the white dominant culture.


Some of my best friends have shared stories of living in housing commission and the sense of community this brings, yet also the failure of housing agencies in repairing homes to ensure they are liveable. 


Absence of discrimination in housing requires acknowledging and actively challenging racist and capitalistic understandings and operations of land and property.


For example, firstly considering questions surrounding land ownership in an individual sense and understanding that owning the house you live in, the privileges that come before this possibility coming to fruition and the stability this may give people once acquired.  


Will discrimination ever become absent from service systems, or will it be ever present?


The Queensland Human Rights Commission defines discrimination as defined as, ‘unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people especially on grounds of race, gender or sex’. The Human Rights Commission states that discrimination can also occur when an unreasonable rule or policy applies to everyone but has the effect of disadvantaging some people because of a personal characteristic they share. 


Having worked in both Central Australia, from Alice Springs to Tennant Creek (Yuendumu country), Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands (Mimili and Indulkna countries) in South Australia, as well as metropolitan Adelaide, I have witnessed and stood alongside people who have experienced discrimination.


Such systems serve the colonial agenda. The colonial agenda is the policy that so-called Australia seeks to extend to retain its authority over other people and lands with the aim of economic dominance. 


Housing is a concern of state governments. As a result, First Nations Peoples, women, and those who are single women, with disabilities, chronic illness and mental health issues, as well as those who come from refugee and immigrant families, are discriminated against when obtaining housing.


We all have a right to adequate, safe and secure housing.


Housing meets the nexus of other systems, education, health, personal safety, right to privacy and engagement with work. Structural factors determine why pervasive homelessness exists now while individual factors explain who is least able to compete for scarce affordable housing. (Koegel et al. 1995, p.1642)


There are structural precursors to housing. Being pushed into poverty by high rents is a serious issue. Tenancy laws favour landlords.


Despite the presence of anti-discrimination laws, landlords and real estate agents are able to decline potential tenants on a host of characteristics. ‘No ground evictions’ need to be outlawed, and a balancing of laws that favor tenants need to be exercised. 


Working as a social worker, I have observed how housing is one of the biggest gaps in the social service industry. In many cases wait lists can be between 2-10 years long, with different categories for the level of ‘complexity’ an individual’s life holds.


For example, a child with a physical disability may require particular fittings and wide corridors to ensure safe access in the home. Landlords and Housing South Australia have at times been culturally inconsiderate, and unresponsive to the needs of tenants.


In Indigenous communities for example, many families live together with multiple people in the same room, similar to many collective cultures across the globe.


However, families are assessed or given housing according to a colonial neoliberal lens. If additional family members reside at the residence of an aunty, cousin or granddaughter, notice to vacate to vacais given by the housing authority of that state or territory.


This occurs, all while knowing that there is insufficient housing. While working there, many individuals within the community shared their stories of frustration with me.


And despite community members following government processes they are often left unresponded to and further ignored. Some of the housing issues have included, but are not limited to, broken unlockable doors and windows and constant leaks where the community water tank is emptied. 


These processes are enforced by the same colonial systems that will not hesitate to pick up the phone to make a child abuse report if a service provider deems that children are not being supervised, all while not considering that the housing authorities have failed to address serious matters of concern.


Housing is a system. Any serious attempt to improve housing outcomes must recognise the need for a system-wide transformation.


The service industry measures complexity by what comorbid factors affect an individual’s life, that is, are you a victim or survivor of domestic violence or do you have a child with a disability? What level of risk can we mark your life with?


The implications for using these risk assessments are that people’s intersectionality markers and marginalisation need to be proven and considered before their housing needs are given attention. 


It is imperative that we support minority voices to speak up and work towards litigation to hold governments to account.


Humane housing is a human right.


A system wide transformation might seem utopian and many might ask how much worse things have to get before active policy action becomes irresistible as a bipartisan commitment. Rules could be put in place for minimum levels of housing affordability that must be built within housing developments. 


Taranjeet Thandi

Taranjeet (she/her) is a first generation Punjabi who lives on unceded Kaurna land. From a young age, as a Woman of Colour, she has spoken up about social injustice and the misuse of power by people and service systems. Taranjeet creates content on encouraging critical thinking to question dominant discourse and consider perspectives from an anti-oppressive, decolonial and intersectional lens.

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