How to be a great advocate for tenants: Helen Gatonyi on tenant advocacy and 25 years with TPA

Jun 30, 2016 | News

Working shoulder-to-shoulder with people, respecting them, giving them the opportunity to share their stories and access their own abilities and knowledge is the best way for successful negotiations and outcomes.

It’s also necessary to have a thorough understanding of the Residential Tenancies Act and the other Acts that sit around families and individuals in housing. Developing networks and relationships that help with quick and direct access to resources and outcomes helps. So does a strong understanding about community development practice and social justice. The type of advocacy used is really important with the correct information and practical options based on the actual situation. Some well-meaning advisors will give the answer they want to hear or their client wants to hear and can do the client a disservice by doing so.

“You can learn the law and its application but, in this arena-keeping people in homes-you can’t make judgements about people only the situation they’re in. Nothing is ever what it appears to be. And after 25 years of adversary you learn how to get people to the table.”

At its best, says Helen, tenant advocacy is a significant form of homelessness prevention.

What irks her still, though, is the thousands and thousands of dollars of unclaimed bonds, effectively tenant’s money, sitting in Government coffers while tenant advocacy groups scramble for funding – taking valuable time and resources away from direct support.

Helen recently told The Press reporter Emily Spink (Stuff,June 5, 2016) that the job of tenant advocacy, which has included laughter, tears and threats against her, involves fighting to help people keep a roof over their heads. Finishing up with TPA on July 1, Helen says, “There’s always been a new opportunity to fight another battle or make a change that’s going to affect change for others in a positive way. And I’ve just got tired.”

Some things do not change, Helen told The Press reporter Emily Spink, including the fight against homelessness and the need for a rental warrant of fitness. She is frustrated by the inaction of successive governments. “Everybody is just a couple of steps away from homelessness. Anyone of us could possibly find ourselves without a roof over our head. We have had some spectacular success with people, for people, but it is really demoralising to say the least, to see there is still so so much to be done.”

Read the Press interview with Helen here.

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