Community housing

Community housing providers are non-government organisations (usually incorporated as co-operatives or companies limited by guarantee) that provide social housing under funding contracts and other regulatory arrangements with government.

Most community housing operates on similar terms to public housing, but community housing providers are increasingly involved in other government housing programs (such as the National Rental Affordability Scheme, or NR AS) and partnerships with the private sector, which provide ‘affordable housing’ on different terms.

Community housing providers are required to be registered under the National Regulatory System for Community Housing and comply with the National Regulatory Code. The NSW Registrar of Community Housing administers these requirements in New South Wales (Community Housing Providers (Adoption of National Law) Act 2012(NSW)).

Applying for community housing

Generally, you apply for community housing the same way as for public housing: through Housing Pathways. The eligibility criteria for public housing and community housing are the same.

However, some of the housing provided by community housing providers, such as NRAS housing, has different eligibility criteria and is not allocated through Housing Pathways. You have to apply directly to the community housing providers for this sort of housing.

Fixed terms

Most community housing tenancies commence with a fixed term of one or two weeks, then continue as periodic agreements. FACS Housing’s policy of using two, five and 10-year fixed terms, subject to reviews of eligibility, does not apply to community housing.

In some cases – particularly where the tenancy is provided as part of a special program, such as a supported accommodation program for young persons – the community housing provider may offer a tenancy with a fixed term, reflecting that the tenancy is not intended to be permanent or long term.

Former public housing tenants who are ‘less than satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory’ may also be offered a fixed term tenancy agreement, depending on the policy of the community housing provider.

Community housing rents

Most community housing tenants pay a rebated rent that is equivalent to about 25 per cent of their household income, as tenants do in public housing. The concessional rates for Family Tax Benefit income and the incomes of young adults also apply, as they do in public housing.

There are, however, some differences: in particular, neither the moderate income rent rebate rates, nor the 30 per cent rate, apply to community housing.

Also, as a community housing tenant you may be eligible to receive Rent Assistance. Indeed, if you are eligible for Rent Assistance, your community housing landlord will calculate your rebated rent so as to maximise the amount of Rent Assistance you can claim – and then include all of that amount in the rent you have to pay. (In other words, your rent will be equivalent to 25 per cent of your non-Rent Assistance income, plus 100 per cent of your Rent Assistance.)

This is changed

Before 2008, community housing providers treated Rent Assistance like other income: that is, the 25 per cent rate applied. Since then, new tenants’ rebated rents have included 100 per cent of Rent Assistance. Under transitional arrangements for tenants from before 2008, the higher rate of inclusion of Rent Assistance was subject to a cap, so they would not be more than $10 per week worse off (compared to when only 25 per cent of Rent Assistance was included). After six months, the rent was again reviewed and increased – again subject to a $10 per week cap.

Rents in affordable housing programs may be set differently. In some programs the rent is 30 per cent of your income; in NRAS housing, the rent is a percentage (often 75 per cent, up to a maximum of 80 per cent) of the market rent for the premises.

Water charges

As social housing landlords, community housing providers can charge for water according to guidelines approved by the Minister for Family and Community Services (section 139), instead of the usual provisions at Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW) (the RT Act) section 39.

The Ministerial Guidelines for Community Housing Water Charging are not the same as those for FACS Housing. The guidelines allow a community housing provider to charge according to its own policy subject to some general requirements. These requirements are that the water charge be payable at the same period as the rent; that tenants with separate meters be charged according to their use of water; and that tenants with shared meters be charged according to a ‘fair and transparent method’. The details of the method are left up to each community housing provider. Some have policies to charge along the lines of section 39; some don’t charge at all.

If a community housing provider does not have a policy under the guidelines, its ability to charge for water is doubtful – particularly where premises are not separately metered. It is also doubtful whether any community housing providers could have lawfully charged for water in the period from 31 January 2011 (when the RT Act 2010 commenced) to December 2011 (when the guideline was issued). Contact your local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service for advice.

Succession, transfer and other policy matters

Each community housing provider has policies for dealing with matters that arise in relation to tenancies, including succession and transfers (that is, transfers within the community housing provider's properties; you can apply for transfers to other social housing providers through Housing Pathways).

However, no community housing provider’s policies are as comprehensive or detailed as FACS Housing’s policies. Indeed, many community housing providers have policies that are quite vague, or incomplete, or not publicly available.

A community housing provider is required, as a condition of its registration, to be fair and transparent, so ask for a copy of any policy that affects its decision-making about you. If the policy is vague or incomplete, you might be able to negotiate about the decision; consider using FACS Housing’s policies as a reference point. If the community housing provider refuses to make a relevant policy available to you, consider seeking legal advice.

Termination

You can end your community housing tenancy in any of the ways discussed in the section on Ending a tenancy: in most cases, this means giving a written 21-day termination notice.

Community housing providers can use all of the methods of termination available under the RT Act 2010 to landlords generally (see section on Ending a tenancy), as well as the special methods of termination available to social housing landlords (but not the special provisions about ABAs or registrable persons).

Termination without grounds

Until recently, community housing providers took much the same approach to termination notices without grounds as did FACS Housing – they generally did not use them.

Lately, however, some community housing providers have been using them much more often, including for matters that might otherwise be dealt with in breach proceedings.

Under its Community Housing Access Policy, FACS Housing requires community housing providers to have ‘fair and transparent’ processes for terminating tenancies, and states that section 85 of the RT Act 2010 should be used only in ‘exceptional circumstances’ and after internal review.

Termination by the head-landlord

Because many community housing properties are head-leased from private landlords, community housing tenancies sometimes end as a result of the headlease being terminated.

Where this happens, the community housing provider will generally offer you a tenancy in alternative premises. Most will insist that you pay any arrears owing before signing you up to a new tenancy.

If the community housing provider does not offer to rehouse you in alternative premises, ask why it has made that decision and consider asking for it to be reviewed.

If it appears that the community housing provider has sought the termination of the headlease as a means of terminating your tenancy, ask for a review and consider making a complaint. This may also be a breach of your quiet enjoyment, so consider applying to the Tribunal for a remedy, too.