OPINION: Regional housing in crisis for retention of teachers
WA is facing a deepening crisis around Government Regional Officer Housing, with teachers saying the appalling state of the system is driving many away from the regions and putting others off moving to work in the country.
As the mining boom drives up private rents in some regional areas, teachers are being priced out of the rental market, forcing them to live in caravan parks, share with strangers and, in some cases, even sleep in swags in school halls or on the floor of other teachers’ houses.
The government employees’ regional housing scheme, launched in 1964, was originally designed to support the attraction and retention of dedicated professionals to remote and regional WA through the provision of quality, affordable housing.
There have always been issues with the supply, quality and maintenance of this regional housing, and the present situation is no different in that respect.
However, in recent years, poor management practices, a lack of maintenance and a failure to invest in new stock have been made worse by the fact the State Government has sold off more than 600 Government Regional Officer Housing houses in the past four years.
Despite what must be an enormous list of management and maintenance issues, the most recent State Budget contained no funding to address either the shortage, or the quality, of Government Regional Officer Housing accommodation.
The State School Teachers’ Union of WA recently asked school leaders, principals and teachers to share their Government Regional Officer Housing experiences, and we have been shocked by the appalling stories we have received.
Members told us they did not feel safe in their Government Regional Officer Housing houses, with break-ins and attempted break-ins because of a lack of security in their homes.
Several teachers said their doors or windows did not lock properly.
Others said they waited for weeks for any action to be taken after they had been broken into, or had attempted break-ins.
Some teachers reported moving into squalid homes, with excrement found in a bath, mould growing in bathrooms, overflowing internal drains, leaking roofs and decking rotted away.
Other members told us their houses lacked heating or cooling, with some teachers living through summers of 40C-plus in the Pilbara or Kimberley without air-conditioning because their requests for maintenance had not been answered.
One member reported living without hot water for months, with tradesmen organised by Government Regional Officer Housing reporting the problem had been addressed when it had not.
Many of our members expressed their frustration at the lack of communication from the Department of Communities, with maintenance issues not logged when reported, responses to urgent requests taking weeks, and tradesmen either turning up unannounced and disappearing without doing the job, or not turning up when they were supposed to.
Several teachers said they had little communication from the department about tenancy start or end dates, meaning some travelled all the way to country towns with their children and pets, only to be told on arrival their house was not ready and they would have to organise their own accommodation.
Others said they were given little or no warning their tenancy was ending and they were being transferred.
The union also heard several stories of teachers being forced to share Government Regional Officer Housing accommodation with no consultation, and of some teachers being unaware they were being allocated a new housemate until the person turned up on the doorstep.
With a looming skills shortage, which is already being felt in the teaching profession, the Government should be doing all it can to attract and retain educators to the regions.
Instead, teachers’ housing needs are being disregarded and many are living in sub-standard accommodation.
The management and provision of Government Regional Officer Housing accommodation needs urgent attention.
The State School Teachers’ Union of WA is asking for an immediate review of all aspects of Government Regional Officer Housing provision and for the State Government to properly invest in its public-sector professionals who help deliver service and support to regional and remote WA.
Pat Byrne is president of the State School Teachers’ Union of WA.
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