August 19, 2014

Pin the Tail on the Donkey! [From Guest Writer, Monica]

Episode One

What’s it like trying to find suitable, affordable and liveable accommodation for rent in one of the world’s most expensive cities, whilst you’re receiving the Newstart allowance? (Pardon me, but isn’t an *allowance* something that parents give their kiddies to go to the movies and stuff)?

Dealing with unscrupulous real estate agents and landlords, a bull raging housing economy, knowing you don’t have much money to spend on the move or finding new digs, makes a girl as giddy as being blindfolded and spun around and being told to *pin it* - the tail on the donkey that is. 

Your chances of finding something liveable on such a meagre income are equally as likely as sticking the donkey tail in the right spot.  Blind folds do come in handy though when looking at some of the places on offer though.

Quite frankly I’d like to play pin the tail on the donkey with a line-up of those ministers in governments current and previous, who are responsible for making our welfare system, and human services department one of the most punitive, unhelpful, and demoralising, and the word *human* should be taken out of it.

Not only are rents exorbitant for working folk, just imagine what it’s like for those whose total income from the government doesn’t even cover the rent, even with rental assistance.

The move is not a choice, I repeat *not* a choice and neither is the location of where we are to move. When you’re receiving the unemployment benefit you are forbidden from moving to an area where rents are cheaper because employment in those areas is usually lower. The owner of my property had asked my flatmate and I to vacate his apartment as he wanted to move in. Some people think that’s a euphemism for “I want you to move out so that I can renovate and put the rent up even higher”. Particularly if you live in a hipster suburb like I did.

There is much talk in the mainstream media about renting versus owning, but scarce information about renting on a benefit. I do recall seeing a few articles around March but nothing substantial.

The rent versus ownership argument often states that renters are at the mercy of increasing high rents, Landlords turfing them out when they smell a rise in the market and want to sell to capitalise on that.

Call me a *filthy* old communist but I believe houses should be for living in, not a commodity to get rich at someone else's expense. Finding a place that’s affordable on Newstart, near public transport, (we don’t drive) and relatively close to a CBD for potential work is near impossible. If you have a pet of any kind you’re almost erased from the market altogether. Not to mention the kinds of dwellings on offer and the real estate buzz words to draw you in.

Here is a list of some of the doosies we encountered.

Old world charm!
Old world indeed! Some other world perhaps, other worldly, but certainly no charm in my part of the world

Ornate Fixtures
Were they referring to the person asleep on the front step when we arrived for the open house inspection? “Just step over them” said the property manager.

Your own private cosy courtyard!
Our front step was bigger than the cement slab out the back on offer in this place.

Cute and Cosy
Where is the living room!

Close to transport
You’re living on the train line

It’s worth a look
Actually it’s not

Be near the action
The main highway is just outside your front door, or you’re above a shop.

One/ Two bedroom cute home
It only has one bedroom; the other tenants turned the living room into a second bedroom to keep the rent down. Plus! the hallway was so narrow you couldn’t carry any furniture through it and the only way to get your furniture in was to remove the very large front window of the house.

Gardeners delight!
Previous tenants were market gardeners and turned the entire yard into a raised vegetable garden, complete with chicken wire around what looked like dead olive trees, which was impossible to maintain.

You’ll have to be quick this one won’t last.
Too bloody right it won’t last, it’s on its last legs and I can’t believe it’s passed a building inspection code, for being *liveable*. It probably hasn’t.

Partly Furnished!
Previous tenants left a couple of wardrobes they got from Vinnie’s - not that there is anything wrong with purchasing from Vinnie’s, but I’d rather choose my own.

Freshly Painted and Carpets Cleaned.
Stinks like old wet dog and cat urine and it’s easier to paint over peeling wallpaper and mould than it is to do something about it.

So what did we settle on you ask?

With time running out and scary thoughts of homelessness, it was a miracle that a 2 bedroom semi, advertised as being in original condition with plenty of character features turned out to be ok. I honestly didn’t think it was going to be much but here is the upside- it was below market rent (still very expensive though) and something that we could afford but only just. It wasn’t stuck out in the burbs miles away from transport, shopping centres or health facilities, or nestled alongside the railway line. There was room to move, ok size bedrooms, a front and backyard, pets weren’t a problem, and the bathroom is big with an old fashioned big bath, ahhh!, how I love those for my tired old bones, haven’t had one in years!

The down side - We have to share the front porch with the neighbours, who, so far, seem to think the front of the house is an ashtray, a garbage bin and a storage facility. The old fella out the back of the house is a fiendish chain smoker. He smokes so much that we have to keep the bathroom door closed as it leaches into the living room and I just love the smell of sickly sweet nicotine flooding the house. 

Relaxing in the bath is almost impossible unless you want to give yourself lung cancer. I had to clean dirt and mould off of the doors both inside and out, oil and grease on the kitchen walls and shelving. The stove was the filthiest I had ever seen, and it took days and days to get it to a condition that I actually felt comfortable putting food near it or on it. It was so rusted I didn’t think the gas would actually get through. 

The plaster is peeling off the walls. The carpet is disgusting and there is a pungent foul smell that comes up through the floor boards and carpet. It’s an ice box in winter. There is no storage space at all. The kitchen is pokey and I have to close the back door which overlooks the sloping back yard (I’ll get to this in a moment) to get to the food in the cupboards. The laundry is outside, very small, the paint is peeling off the walls; I guess they forgot to paint that bit. The washing machine has to fit in sideways not front on, and you can’t get anything else in there with it. 

The screen doors are hanging by rusty bent nails. The fence palings were literally flapping up and down in the recent strong winds we experienced. When I cleaned the bath I found a merkin hiding in the plug hole eeeeek! Maybe I could sell it, anyone need one? I do love a backyard but preferably not one that slopes downwards, has little drainage and turns into a muddy pond when it rains.

The younger of our close neighbours, but still old enough to be a mature adult, has apparently mistaken our front lawn for his driveway and parks his trucks on it. On our second night we were treated to a welcoming party. How nice to listen to the dulcet sounds of heavy metal coming from the front porch late into the night and early hours of the morning. 

Neighbour had invited his charming friend over and both were busy downing plenty of alcohol and cannabis. They seemed to think that this was a reasonable way to spend a Tuesday night. I went shopping the following day, and neighbours friend was sleeping in an upright position on the delightful and stylish brown couch on the front porch - with his mouth open and snoring. I was gone for quite some-time, only to return with him still in the same spot, beer bottle in one hand, illicit substance smoking implement in the other, head down and snoring like a trooper. His charm was outmatched by the stunning soccer ball ham balding patch at the back of his head, and who was he trying to fool with that pony tail. 

Maybe they had been playing ‘Pin the tail on the donkey’. After all, it’s easy to understand how someone could have mistaken his bald patch for a donkey’s ass. I really wanted to give it a good poke, but decided it was best not to disturb it in its nest. So I pulled my shopping trolley clacking it all the way up the stairs, fantasising about building a brick wall between their side and our small side of the porch to block the unsightliness of it all.

To be continued…


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