Experts say secure rentals, not home ownership scheme, needed for domestic violence victim-survivors

Illawarra Mercury – Natalie Croxon

Illawarra experts on domestic violence say the state government needs to focus first on providing secure, affordable rental housing for victim-survivors, rather than home ownership.

The NSW government has announced it will establish a taskforce to investigate extending the Shared Equity Home Buyer Helper program to victim-survivors of domestic violence, including eligibility criteria.

Under the current program, the NSW government contributes up to 40 per cent for a new home, or up to 30 per cent for an existing home, purchased by eligible home buyers who have a minimum 2 per cent deposit.

Illawarra Women’s Health Centre executive director Sally Stevenson welcomed any options to provide more stable and secure housing to victim-survivors, but said home ownership was only a small part of the picture.

“We know that women who are leaving violent relationships often have very little resources,” Ms Stevenson said.

Home ownership – even under this scheme – was out of reach for so many victim-survivors, she said, and the focus needed to be on providing long-term, affordable rental housing instead.

Victim-survivor and Sisters in Law founder Jane Matts said women usually had no equity left after leaving a violent relationship and going through the Family Court system, which was expensive and could take years.

Ms Matts said victim-survivors were also dealing with so many more urgent needs that buying a home and navigating a program like the shared equity scheme were low on the list.

“Your first priority is your safety,” she said.

The government needed to look more closely at the needs of victim-survivors, Ms Matts said, and affordable, secure rental housing was more of a priority.

“When I moved into a house, every cent I got from Centrelink went to rent only,” she said.

Ms Stevenson said the proposal also raised questions around confidentiality, and what information and to whom victim-survivors would have to disclose.

But Domestic Violence NSW, the peak body for the state’s specialist services which will also co-chair the taskforce, has welcomed the proposal.

“For victim-survivors who are in a financial position to purchase property, this scheme will make it a little bit easier for them to escape abusive relationships, rebuild their life and have a secure roof over their head,” chief executive officer Delia Donovan said.

Homelessness NSW also supports the expansion of the program.

“Supporting victim-survivors to have a safe home will be a significant step towards reducing homelessness,” CEO Trina Jones said.

“For those who can afford to access it, this scheme will help people live in a safe home and contribute to safer and stronger communities.”

The taskforce’s recommendations will be considered ahead of the next state budget, due in September.