On Wednesday my plans for this week got turned over in the space of half an hour. At 9.00am I was expecting to visit one of my brothers for our regular Wednesday dinner, and then on Thursday morning hop in the car and drive up to the mid-north coast to see my parents. By 9.30 I was instead planning to go to the 18th birthday dinner of a family friend that night, and ActionMan had been invited to go camping for the long weekend. This meant no trip north until next week, and instead, the luxury of four whole days without my child around!
So this is why I got to go to the 4 Rs conference on Friday, which I mentioned in my last post. I decided to attend the racism stream, although there were lots of other tempting sessions, such as “Popular politics and climate change”, or “Ethnocultural diversity and sport”.
The racism sessions were structured around presentation of the data from the Challenging Racism study (also mentioned in previous post). Mostly academics and policy makers discussed the accumulated evidence for racism in our society, the different areas of life where racism occurs, and what kinds of anti-racism “interventions” are, or might be effective.
Researchers from the Challenging Racism study, which began in 2001, gave presentations on the geographic breakdown of racism in Australia (based on interviews with people about their attitudes to people of different ethnic groups), and how people who are targeted experience racism.
It was an interesting day with stimulating discussion of a complex issue. I hope the conference organisers will put some of the presentations online. I’m not going to go into a great deal of detail about it right now, because really I’m just using it as a launching pad to have a gripe about another – related – issue.
Several of the presenters showed data which indicated that one of the areas people experience racism is in housing. For example, they’re told a property is available but when they turn up to view it, it’s suddenly “already leased”. I’ve had my own experience of this. At one time after I’d separated from DadaK I was looking for a house with a young Ghanaian friend. The agent seemed friendly and after we looked at the flat she asked us to come back to the agency to put in an application. Mysteriously, in that half hour interval before we got back there, the owner had called and told the agent it was no longer available. Well, you have to wonder.
There have been a couple of other occasions where we’ve been evicted when I’ve wondered if racism wasn’t a factor, although with evictions landlords can shelter behind “moving in” or “renovating” and never need show the real reasons, even though it’s written all over their faces.
Most recently, and on the other side of the rental fence, I wasn’t able to find anyone to sublet my room to while I was overseas. For some unknown reason, perhaps the gentrification of this area, or just the general property shortage, I had a lot of anglo 30-something men look at the room. Ive been subletting for years and never had this particular demographic very interested before. It became increasingly apparent that – athough they were very polite about it – they just weren’t comfortable moving in for four months with my dark skinned Moslem Bangladeshi flatmate.
Perhaps it’s a bit harsh to think of this as racism. They didn’t want to move out of their comfort zone, and of course everyone has a right to live where they feel comfortable and happy. So maybe those individuals weren’t being racist. But the fact remains, its white anglo 30 something men who have the absolute luxury of staying in their comfort zone almost all the time, if that’s what they want.
Migrants to this country, on the other hand, are usually already outside their comfort zones just by virtue of being here. Add in those arch enemies of (almost) all landlords – children – plus a low income, an accent and a black skin, and you are almost assured, if you want to live in Sydney in the middle of the current housing crisis, of being forced to live outside your comfort zone. You will have to compromise on several or more probably all of the following: quality, cleanliness, space, security, location, proximity to work, school, friends and family, and of course price.
I mention this because the other thing I have been doing with my ActionMan-free weekend is a bit of househunting for DadaK and Obaapa. DadaK returns with the children in a few weeks, and Obaapa hasn’t yet been able to find a home for them to return to. She’s busy with work on Saturdays so I cruised around the internet rental market and popped out to a few inspections. The last place I looked at was a bit small but in great condition and close to her work. But there were also about seven other groups of people looking at it, including two white middle aged couples without children. Was there really any point in rushing around to get the application in before 3.00pm? I called her up and we agreed not.
If there were more properties available, it wouldn’t matter so much, but there aren’t. I only looked at three today and gave her phone numbers for two more – which are at the top of what she’s prepared to pay and a long way from work. Of the others I looked at, one was in bad condition and the other was too small.
Real Estate agents are starting to complain of harassment and violence from people who are being evicted or haben’t been able to find a home – no wonder! The prospect of being homeless could make anyone lose their cool. Some research institute claims that the rental crisis is exaggerated, but they’re basing this on an internet search that hauled up 20,000 homes in Sydney. Mine today pulled up 7,500 or so, for all properties under $1,000 per week, in the entire Sydney region, including the Blue Mountains, Northern beaches and Camden, so I’m sceptical about the sceptics. Plus I’d estimate at least 3/4 of these were old listings.
Of course if you’re pulling in 100K a year or can fit your family into the “Funky one bedder with stunning views!” for $400 a week that I saw advertised in beachside Clovelly, perhaps they’re right. Umm …. I don’t know many families with budgets like that. Three bedroom places in our area start at $400 a week (just under half the average weekly wage) and the third bedroom is more like a cupboard. And it’s just been announced that Sydney needs 900,000 more homes by 2031 to accomodate the anticipated increase in population. Eeek!
Anyway, the point I wanted to make is, if people are already experiencing racism in housing, then with so few homes available, and the market getting tighter it’s pretty obvious that blue-collar migrants with kids are going to find it tougher than almost anyone else to get decent, affordable housing. Alongside, perhaps, working class single mums on the pension. So this is why I see red.