Building a Future: How Homes for Homes Helped Tracey

More than anything, Tracey needed a home. A home suitable for her family – that’s where Homes For Homes came in.

Tracey had given up on the idea of owning her own home. Somewhere she and her three boys could call their own and that suited their specific needs. They needed room. Lots of it. As well as a modified kitchen and bathroom, and ramps allowing easy access to the house. Her youngest, Joshua, was born with cerebral palsy – he depends on a wheelchair. He needs the type of home with enough room for him to move around in, giving him longed-for independence. But rental properties didn’t tick any of those boxes and were becoming increasingly unsuitable. Not to mention insecure – it’s difficult being at the whim of your landlord. Tracey feared having to place Josh in full‑time care.

“How I was going to look after Josh and his needs had been a growing concern and worry for me,” a softly spoken Tracey says. “Was I going to be capable of giving him quality of life?” She’s taking my call from the quiet of her bedroom. Middle son Daniel is looking after the bolognese bubbling on the stovetop and keeping an eye on the garlic bread in the oven. They are both waiting for Josh to come home from school. Meanwhile older brother Nathan is at work. He recently moved into a share house to be closer to his job. “When Josh was much younger I could carry him, but now I’ve got to watch my back,” continues Tracey. Lifting a growing teenager just wasn’t an option anymore.

Faced with these challenges, Tracey turned to Habitat for Humanity. They provide housing for low‑income families in need, and with a grant contribution from The Big Issue’s Homes for Homes, in December Tracey and her boys were given the keys to a brand‑new purpose-built house.

“It doesn’t feel like a reality to me yet,” she says happily. “Having a house removes the worry, the stress, the fears, the anxiety… One of the things I’ve found living in this house is it brings a sense of peace into your home. I can put roots down for at least 10 years. I know that I can build a network. The best way to give people a way up in life is to give them a secure place. Everything else flows from that.”

Affordable and appropriate housing such as Tracey’s allows people with a disability to participate in all aspects of life. The absence of such housing can lead to homelessness, poor health and lower rates of employment and education, reports the Australia Federation of Disability Organisations.

Tracey has long grappled with the issue of housing affordability, particularly the unsuitability of rentals. “If we were to stay in a rental, it would be very difficult in the long term. They are just not disability-friendly for people in wheelchairs,” she says. Compounding the problem was the insecurity familiar to most renters. The pressure was enormous.

“I’ve gone through a lot of loss in my life,” says Tracey, “and to keep having that sense of fear that you can be removed from a place where you are setting up your home and your family and your life… It’s hard to deal with. I want to take care of my family and to create a home.”

The loss Tracey refers to is the break-up of her marriage. “My husband lives in Indonesia. He abandoned his children about four years ago. I don’t have any support from him so I’m 100 per cent on my own.”

How Homes for Homes Works

The Big Issue’s Homes for Homes raises funds to increase the supply of social and affordable housing. Homeowners register their property, promising to make a tax-deductible donation – 0.1 per cent of the property sale price – when they sell their home. The pooled funds are then granted to housing providers, who build affordable homes for people like Tracey. Homes for Homes has so far granted more than $1.1 million to social and affordable housing projects, and is on track to raise more than $1 billion in donations by 2050.

“People experiencing homelessness need many things: two of the most fundamental are money in their pocket and a roof over their head,” says Steven Persson, CEO of The Big Issue and Homes for Homes. “For 25 years, The Big Issue has provided no-barrier work opportunities which solves the ‘money in the pocket’ piece. There simply are not enough properties to house people who need it – more money is needed to create housing. Homes for Homes allows property owners to make a real difference in helping to increase the supply of housing for people in need. If everyone gives a little, we can solve the ‘roof over the head’ piece and ultimately, solve homelessness in Australia.”

Housing in Australia is in crisis, with a shortage of more than 600,000 social and affordable homes. In the past 25 years house prices have increased four‑fold and more – in Sydney median house prices have risen by 402 per cent and in Melbourne by a whopping 533 per cent. While that has made some property owners wealthy, home ownership fell to a low of 65 per cent in 2016, reports the Bureau of Statistics. In this unpredictable COVID world, it’s only getting worse. Low interest rates have pushed up house prices, with record highs in most capital cities. Renters on low incomes are also struggling. According to Anglicare Australia’s Rental Affordability Snapshot in March, the decline in average rents has done nothing to improve the situation at the lower end of the market. Of 74,226 properties for rent nationwide, only three were affordable for a single person on JobSeeker. Likewise for those receiving the pension, the parenting payment or disability support.

This is sobering news for families like Tracey’s, who are not only trying to find an affordable home, but also one that is wheelchair-friendly.

“Unfortunately, the rental market does not and probably never will offer accessible housing,” says Philip Wright of Habitat for Humanity. “Most of the time the only option is to pay for a house to be modified, or build from scratch. Obviously, this option is incredibly unattainable for many.

“Without access to appropriate and affordable housing, people risk being trapped in poverty and lack a proper foundation to build a better life. Homes for Homes provides vital funding that has helped us build two houses. Both of us are seeking to address the housing affordability issue plaguing our nation.”

Since its inception in 2015, Homes for Homes has funded 10 projects that will house 53 people. Another is Jema’s home, which she shares with her partner Romel and their young daughter Isla. Jema was previously in social housing, but the conditions of the lease meant that Romel was unable to move in with her and Isla. Today they can all live together in their own home.

More recently, a Homes for Homes grant to Community Housing Canberra is contributing to the construction of a group home to support people with mental illness transition from living with ageing parents to a more independent way of life. And a grant to Housing First will see 36 purpose-designed apartments in Melbourne, created for pregnant women and new mothers who are experiencing family violence and homelessness.

Tracey’s home is Habitat for Humanity’s first purpose-built house. “From the beginning they wanted to get this right and make it suitable for my family,” she says. “They had an occupational therapist work with the architect, which was a first. They wanted to get it right for my son.”

Tracey says having her own home is like winning the lottery.

“It gives my son the hope of independent living. And it’s all about inclusion in your own home. My son is now included in the kitchen, which he couldn’t do in the last home. He’s included in the bathroom – he could never go to the sink before and look at his face in the mirror. Imagine that? Couldn’t look at his own face in the mirror or even wash his own hands because he couldn’t access it. Imagine if you walked into your home and you were limited in what you could do in there?”

The impact on Tracey has also been huge. By having a home that adheres to occupational health and safety standards, Tracey can now hire a carer to help look after her son. “It gives me more freedom to live. There are things in my life that I can’t do because I’m a carer. Like if I wanted to have a weekend away, I could never do that in a rental house. If I wanted to have a night away, I couldn’t do it. If I wanted to go overseas… There’s a lot of things people don’t realise I would not be able to do.”

Josh is about to turn 16. They are still settling into their new home, and he’s begun talking about one day getting married and having his own job. How one day his new home could be his future family home, with his own partner and children.

“Fourteen years ago I sat in a doctor’s office with my very premature baby who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy,” says Tracey. “The doctor told me the thing I would most need in my life is a purpose-built home. I have been hoping I could achieve that for my family and today that dream has been realised. A burden has been lifted.”

Written by Anastasia Safioleas, a Contributing Editor at The Big Issue.

First published in Edition #638.

Photos by Nicole Reed.