For a young person, entering the private rental market for the first time is a daunting and confusing process; navigating inspections, applications, and even establishing rental payments can be an anxiety-inducing exercise for anyone. For our most vulnerable young people, even the idea of ‘going it alone’ can evoke emotional barriers. Regardless of the solutions presented around affordability and bias, rental legislation, the whole process can be very overwhelming for a young person.
We know that creating a positive transition into a private rental can turn those feelings of hesitation and doubt into emotions of excitement and empowerment for a young person who is still establishing their independence.
Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) support young people to carve out a way for a young person to find stable employment, create relationships, provide shelter and deal with complexed trauma. While SHS services provide this vital role, the real estate sector plays the most crucial role in young people accessing and being successful in a private rental property.
Real estate engagement has been a taboo topic for several years in the SHS sector. With only a handful of successful one-off funded projects of this nature, delivered in a specific location across NSW and even fewer nationally, there was a proven need for a boarder and more consistent approach.
Even with the introduction of private rental subsidies such as Rent Choice Youth and rental guarantee’s, both available through NSW state government initiatives, barriers around the stigma of homelessness from agents remained a constant response. The issues around perceived stigma have been long felt by the SHS sector when trying to place a young person into stable and secure housing. Along with the reality young people are more likely to have a lack of rental history, which further contributes to the challenge of finding a private rental. In 2018 the NSW premier advised a priority of reducing youth homelessness by 2019. Increasing access to the private rental market was a key strategy under this priority. Yfoundations saw this as an opportunity for cross-sector collaboration and proposed the pilot concepts of the NSW wide, Foot in the Door initiative.
Development and design of Foot in the Door
To understand the barriers young people and services were facing in accessing private rental opportunities, Yfoundations consulted further with SHS members and the broader sector to obtain an understanding of how we could improve young people accessing the private rental market. Simultaneously Yfoundations was working closely with the Real Estate industry to understand the challenges they faced with considering young people for private rentals. Yfoundations received feedback around a lack of rental history and affordability as the significant barriers to accessing a property. Issues of stigma were prevalent from Real Estate agents but more so towards those young people who were currently residing in a shelter, refuge or transitional housing. Some other barriers expressed equally by both SHS service workers and the Real Estate sector were the challenges of maintaining positive relationships with high staff turn over and communications, highlighted by statements like,
“ We used to be able to get many clients into properties when John was at the agency, but since he left it’s like starting all over again every time with someone new, they don’t know what we do, and we just don’t have time to start over continuously.”
The critical considerations for the Foot in the Door initiative were to develop a consistent approach to Real Estate engagement with the potential to be scaled across the state and easily adapted or duplicated nationally.
The Foot in the Door was then designed to:
- Increase agent’s knowledge on the roles and function of Youth Homelessness Services
- Provide an introduction to property managers in understanding trauma and youth homelessness
These aims would foster increased communication and relationship building between SHS and the real estate sector. Creating accessibility and uptake of the Rent Choice youth subsidy and improved access to the private rental market for those young people leaving SHS services for which it was suitable.
When reflecting on the learnings of existing work done across NSW we were able to see that the most common way the community sector has sought participation from Real Estate agents was through networking breakfasts in the hopes of building one on one relations.
When designing the Foot in the Door model, taking the elements of what was working well was necessary, however, considerations of the projects ability to be saleable, evaluated and duplicated were vital.
One of the early pieces of feedback in initial consultations with the Real Estate Industry was the need for the SHS sector to speak the same language as the Real estate agents. The first learning in this was something straightforward, in defining our audience; we quickly learnt we needed to be speaking to property managers and not in fact Real Estate Agents as so much of our work had previously referred to. Foot in the Door also had to produce content that could be delivered and relevant to any location across NSW, and simple enough to be understood by even Real Estate administration staff. Key partners for the Real Estate industry also provided input into the development of a potential delivery model. The Real Estate Institute of NSW being instrumental in the core piece of work focusing on training and skills. A secondary element would see a communication strategy created to promote relationships and information share.
What is Foot In The Door
Foot in the Door is a face to face training program that provides up to date information and resources highlighting key focus area’s in language Real-Estate Agents can relate to.
The key topic areas of learning in the program for agents introduce agents to the challenges of youth homelessness. Exploring the financial and social impacts on young people and the broader community. This element was an important part of developing the ‘what’s in it for me’ for agents.
We realised that many agents didn’t have even a basic understanding of the role of the SHS services, so the possible benefits of working collaboratively with services was not within conception.
Resource videos of lived experience case stories, including genuine agent recommendations were created to demonstrate this highlighting the client, worker, agent relationships working cohesively to support new and existing tenants.
From an ethical perspective, it was important to include some introductory understandings around trauma practice, adapting the content to be trauma-informed leading to trauma informed tenancy management. This outlined theories on trauma triggers and understanding isolated incident, ongoing and vicarious trauma as most relevant for agents. It was hoped that with this knowledge agents could adopt a varied approach to daily interactions with tenants and potentially influence their workplace practice.
Knowledge about available Government Subsides Rent Choice Youth and tenancy guarantees was high on the topics of interest for property managers and this worked in favour when opening the conversation of potentially suitable properties to be offered for lease in promotion of new tenancies for SHS leavers. Property managers were also provided a short workbook with some details of the services available in their local area.
Delivery of Foot in the Door was done across a number of platforms.
Face-to-Face: training sessions were two-and-a-half hours each at five locations across NSW, Sydney, Liverpool, Orange, Port Macquarie and Armidale. Training was hosted in community or Government spaces, with morning/afternoon tea provided to encourage networking.
Webinar: Online delivery was hosted by REINSW with promotion and registrations being carried out through their database of agents and stakeholders.
Roadshow events: Annual CPD training events conducted by REINSW were an ideal opportunity to network with local agents and provided a wide reach for information dissemination.
Events: Significant events held within the Real Estate industry were important to develop the visibility of Foot in the Door concept. This included being an exhibitor Australian Property Management Expo with over 700 property managers in attendance.
This first stage evaluation focused on the relevance, concepts and delivery of the program to property managers, and the potential short-term outcomes of the of the work. The key questions the evaluation aimed to explore were: Are real estate agents satisfied with the Foot in the Door training? Does the Foot in the Door training contribute to changes in real estate agents’ knowledge and attitudes relating to homeless young people?
Property managers that participated in the training were firstly asked a series of questions to establish a baseline attitudinal scale. Secondly post training the same questions was asked along with reflections on training content and knowledge gained. The results outlined the biggest affect was an agent’s likelihood to connect with services after participating in Foot in the Door training. The evaluation also specified participation rates, 150 people attended Foot in the Door training: 43 face-to-face; and 107 through webinar. A further 118 Property Managers were reached through direct contact with the REINSW Roadshow events.
Overall participant satisfaction with the Foot in the Door program was high. The webinar retention rate was 100%; and face-to-face training achieved a net Promoter Score of 64. Post training feedback provided reflected that on average, Foot in the Door significantly improved attendee’s understanding and competency around youth homelessness.
The majority of Real Estate Industry attendees reported improvement in:
- knowledge about youth homelessness (58%)
- knowledge about trauma (50%)
- ability to recognise behaviour associated with trauma (50%)
- confidence to connect a tenant with a youth worker (75%)
- knowledge of the subsidies and supports available to young tenants (67%)
Foot in the Door has achieved outcomes beyond what was expected in a short period of time: young people were connected with private rental opportunities; and Property Managers implemented new practices to support young tenants. Further opportunities to improve young people’s access to private rental tenancies were also identified through this pilot.
The Future of Foot in the Door
The outcomes realised through the project went beyond the boundaries of evaluation questions alone, as relationships with the property sector were built at every level and extended to introductions that saw larger new build developers with offers of available properties. With new knowledge of SHS systems, agent’s came to understand the majority of young people make consistent payments to reside in a SHS services, with majority of agents suggesting that a statement proving these payments included with a new tenancy application could possibly be viewed similarly as a rental ledger, somewhat solving this issue. This work also highlighted pockets of opportunity for the development of future work for Yfoundations. We witnessed, SHS engagement with private business, leading to conversations around improvements and engagement with temporary accommodation providers working towards better outcomes for clients, particularly relevant in regional areas. Another area for future exploration for Foot in the Door will look into the development of a broader tenant referral systems aimed at direct property management referral to SHS services. This initiative will identify at risk tenancies for early intervention long before young people are facing evictions or even presenting at services.
The future Foot in the Door program sees property managers and caseworkers working side by side in a co-supporting relationship with common goals and a deep understanding of the challenges being faced by all parties. This can only be done by continuing the availability of this training to the property sector and providing the platform to have impactful conversations with stakeholders such as REINSW. It is inevitable that through this process we will evoke long-term systemic change accoss the wider sector.
Foot in the Door challenges both the property sector and services to work in a truly progressive way and realise common goals and benefits that may not have been apparent until recently. At no other time in history could it be more accurately said “we are all in this together”.