Unity Housing, South Australia’s largest community housing provider (CHP), is paving the way for safe and accessible housing through its Boarding House Program.

Boarding houses provide housing for single people experiencing hardships, with a private bedroom and either shared common facilities or en-suite bathrooms. Unity currently manages four different boarding house locations across inner city Adelaide.

The Terrace, is the largest, with 95 rooms for both male and female tenants and is staffed 24/7. Their smaller boarding houses include Citi Hall, Gilles Lodge and Hurtle Square. Prior to Unity managing the boarding houses, they were privately owned and lacked much of the organisation and tenant satisfaction that Unity has brought to the program.

Margot George, is the team leader of Unity’s Board Housing Program. Margot spoke with CHIA about the program and its vital nature for helping people access safe housing.

“I heard a lot of stories about when the boarding houses were privately owned and the way tenants were treated. It definitely seems things are running better now. The tenants report to be much happier and love to tell us stories about how it used to work. It’s very different now,” Margot says.

The unique and compassionate way Unity Housing manages the boarding houses largely attributes to the program’s success. Margot says there is a three step process that ensures tenants are well looked after.

“What is really important is the allocation process. It is important to consider what room people are placed in, and what their accommodation needs are. Before any of our tenants are housed, they come in and have an assessment with me to discuss their housing history and why tenancies have failed in the past. From there I find out what are their support needs when selecting a room for them,” says Margot.

‘Another thing I consider is keeping a balance. In the Terrace building there are 95 tenants and it’s broken up into floors and wings. That way people can form supports from other tenants within their floor. We wouldn’t place a female on an all-male floor where she may feel vulnerable. Just like we wouldn’t have a young person on a floor with all older people, because they would be vulnerable or feel isolated.’

‘The other important thing is early intervention. We have house rules here that tenants need to abide by. If we identify tenants that seem to be struggling we will link them in with supports to assist them. There are two liaison workers whose role is to assist our tenants to access supports. If tenants are not coping with their tenancy we work with them to try and rectify that. Same goes for enforcing rules, we always get onto it straight away so tenants know what their boundaries are and what they need to do to be able to live here,” Margot continues.

The tenants at Unity’s boarding house program are varied – and the program is for anyone who is experiencing hardship. There are migrant tenants who don’t speak English as their first language, Aboriginal tenants, tenants who suffer from mental health issues, those with drug and alcohol issues, or simply people who have fallen on hard times.

Although the boarding house program is primarily intended as transitional housing, there are also long-term tenants who reside at the properties.

“We have tenants who have been with us for over ten years, and probably wouldn’t cope well in other housing types. The majority of our tenants won’t stay that long – we do try to move them into our community housing program. But it’s good to have some long-term tenants because they help enforce the rules and set the mood about what it’s like to live here,” Margot says.

What makes Unity’s Boarding House Program unique is there are no comparable programs in South Australia. While there are similar facilities for young people, there are no facilities for ‘generic’ homeless people.

“There are a lot of people here who would not cope elsewhere, that aren’t ready for the private rental market or possibly even for living by themselves in public or community housing. We have staff on site 24/7 and that provides a feeling of security for our tenants. People living here know the property will be well maintained and that we will abide by the Residential Tenancies Act so they won’t be subject to unfair conditions,” Margot continues.

Unity’s staff are also essential in maintaining the positive progression and operation of the Boarding House Program.

“When people come here [Unity] they stay. Our staff have empathy for people in crisis, as well as being resilient. We’re part of a big organisation and we’ve got policies and procedures to support both staff and tenants,” says Margot.

The success of the program exhibits the great need for more boarding houses which mirror Unity’s approach.

“We’ve got 117 beds but there are so many more people sleeping rough…places like the Terrace help people build independent living skills before they move on to more independent living,” Margot says.

CHIA congratulates Unity Housing’s unique and inspiring program that has helped many people who would otherwise very likely be without a home.