10 May 2023

Refurbished Salvation Army units welcomed as Griffith faces housing shortage

| Oliver Jacques
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Three Salvos staff inside unit

The Salvation Army’s Michelle Kilgower, Cheri Erai-Collins and Kristie Clifton inside a refurbished unit. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The Salvation Army has refurbished four community housing units in North Griffith, providing tenants with ongoing support in an effort to help ease the town’s chronic housing shortage.

On Friday (5 May), the not-for-profit group held a barbecue to showcase the slick new-looking apartments – which would rival any on the private market – and to thank the many volunteers and local businesses who helped with the project. The Binya Street block, once managed by The Salvation Army church, will now be run by Salvos Housing, a registered community housing provider.

“Previously, people came to the church, who gave them a place to stay … but from now they will have proper case management and tenancy management,” Salvos Housing state manager Cheri Erai-Collins said. “We’re now offering fully supported tenancies that will help people get back on their feet.”

READ ALSO New workers in Riverina left with nowhere to live as rental vacancies hit record lows

Two of the apartments were already completed – freshly painted, cleaned and featuring new furniture, with the remaining two units to be completed to a similar standard in the coming weeks. All four dwellings are already tenanted.

About 40 people attended the Friday event, with some saying they would gladly trade their own place for what they were now viewing.

The Salvation Army’s Judy Tamanisave said it had been a real community effort to complete the project in just two weeks.

“Bunnings donated the barbecue and tools, Fantastic Furniture gave us some drawers for free, Ceasars Furniture donated all the beds, mattress protectors and linen,” she said.

”The shop volunteers gave up their time to scrub, clean, and do the pot plants and the lawn. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Row of Salvos employees in front of cake

The Salvation Army’s Tianah Hoare, Rebekkah Zuccato, Michelle Kilgower, Judy Tamanisave and Jason Harris celebrate the refurbishment project’s success. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Program manager Kristie Clifton said the housing would help people who could be trapped in a cycle.

“Often people don’t have a tenancy history. It’s really challenging. How do you get a job when you don’t have a fixed address? How do you get an education? How do you juggle all that when you’re dealing with trauma? This is about saying, ‘Let us support you in all areas of your life’.”

READ ALSO Wagga and Griffith house prices surge as Melbourne and Sydney slide

The most disadvantaged people are sometimes ignored by some real estate agents and landlords, who assume such tenants will damage the property.

Michelle Kilgower, program manager of The Salvation Army’s Murrumbidgee Accommodation and Housing Service, said this perception was misguided.

“The majority of people we help take good care of the place … good things happen to people when they get housed … we’re now in a position to say to tenants, ‘We are here to support you. Whatever your needs are, whatever services you require, we will, to the best of our ability, help you’. We hope that there will be an exit point where there will be a house or a unit or a bedsitter they can have [permanently].”

Inside view of bed and wardrobe

Inside one of the refurbished units. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Rent for each of the units will be a fixed proportion of the tenant’s income, making it affordable in a town where people often have to spend most of what they earn to put a roof over their heads. They are intended to house people for a few weeks, months or perhaps a year or two until they can find something in the private market.

“Market rent in Griffith is $400 to $500 a week for a three-bedroom place, which is what you pay in the rest of NSW,” Ms Erai-Collins said. “In regional NSW, there are just no options. Nobody is building at the minute. Even four additional units back in the market will help.”

While this is an important start, she wants to see far more done.

“There is less than a 1 per cent vacancy rate. We hope to see much more investment in social housing. Government intervention is desperately needed.”

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