An eye-opening moment nearly a decade ago kicked off a partnership to help domestic violence survivors overcome the hurdles to finding a home.
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In a recent episode of Secrets of the Top 100 Agents, Alexandra Haggarty, managing director of First National Maitland, explained how a conversation with a tenant sparked an endeavour that’s now assisted hundreds families in finding rental accommodation, who might have otherwise struggled due to no fault of their own.
As Ms Haggarty recounted, not long after she and her husband took over the Maitland agency, the real estate professional – who has worked across all aspects of the business – had a conversation with a tenant in her then role as property manager.
“She disclosed to me that she had been a victim of domestic violence previous to coming to the property, and that she’d been through a really rough time between leaving that relationship and finding rental accommodation. She had a lot of trouble finding something that was suitable and that she was approved for.”
Part of the issue the tenant faced in finding a home was that she went to lengths to avoid disclosing her situation when applying for properties – fearing that the stigma associated with domestic violence would put her on the back foot – which subsequently left her with gaps in her application.
Neither disclosing her background or hiding it placed her in an optimal position to be granted a lease.
“I looked at this woman and I just was completely in awe. She was such a wonderful tenant and so grateful to have the security of a property to be her own, a rental property of her own.
“The way that she was talking, I thought, this woman’s never going to do anything to jeopardise having a rental property and knows what it’s like to have barriers put in the way of getting access to housing,” Ms Haggarty recalled.
Property managers, Ms Haggarty realised, are optimally placed to address the issues that her tenant had faced in securing a rental, while also providing a stable tenant for the landlord who has entrusted their property to their management.
“It kind of just dawned on me: we can have a beautiful synergy here where we can do something for our community, we can help victim survivors of domestic violence in getting into the private rental market, we can help the local homelessness and domestic violence service provider by working with them to rapidly rehome these clients, and we can also provide excellent tenants for our landlords where the client knows the importance of securing rental accommodation and places a real importance on keeping that rental property,” Ms Haggarty said.
Soon after the conversation, she began speaking with Carrie’s Place, a support service for those experiencing domestic or family violence as well as homelessness. After six months in which the business and the organisation spent time clarifying what each entity’s role would be in a partnership, a memorandum of understanding was established for the two to work together.
Nine years and 200 families later, the program is still running, and Ms Haggarty reported “we haven’t had any unsuccessful tenancies in that time”.
She puts that down to the efforts of everyone involved, noting that it does require some extra work on the part of the real estate agency and staff.
“The staff are the key to whether the program is going to work or not. I’m not at the coalface anymore in property management, so if my team weren’t prepared to go the extra mile and come along on this journey with me, then we wouldn’t have 200 families in Maitland that are now in safer homes,” Ms Haggarty noted.
Training for property managers to understand the factors around domestic violence is key, as is establishing a high level of trust with property owners.
“They have to have the trust in us, that we are not just putting somebody into their property for the sake of ticking a box or fulfilling a program. A lot of that is about building up the goodwill and the trust in the client relationship with the landlord before you approach them about entering into the partnership,” she explained.
Ms Haggarty has worked with Domestic Violence NSW to provide insight for real estate industry leaders who wish to learn more about how to best support tenant applicants who have experienced violence in the home, or are interested in establishing a similar program in their agency.
Listen to the full episode here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Based in Sydney, Juliet Helmke has a broad range of reporting and editorial experience across the areas of business, technology, entertainment and the arts. She was formerly Senior Editor at The New York Observer.
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