The Northern Territory government has canceled approximately $70 million (US$448.8 million) of its rental debt for remote Indigenous communities, amid allegations of inadequate housing.
Treasurer Eva Lawler has written off her debts in late June following a lawsuit by Aboriginal residents of Lalumba and Santa Teresa, near Alice Springs in central Australia, according to Grata Fund, a non-profit litigation firm. Says.
More details about this decision were heard at a recent NT Civil and Administrative Court hearing that ended last week.
“The effect of this decision is that the remote rent liability prior to June 30, 2019 has been written off under Section 35(1) of the Financial Management Act,” said Territory Family, Housing and Community Attorney. One Lauren Tattersall said from a witness box.
“Remote rent obligations effective July 1, 2019 have been forgiven pursuant to Section 35, Subsection 2 of the Financial Management Act.”
This decision is a big win for the Aboriginal residents of Lalumba and Santa Teresa. They filed a lawsuit against the NT government five years before him, citing the poor quality of rental housing in the community.
“In addition to having no choice but to rent inhumane homes, remote Aboriginal people have had to contend with rental debt charges,” said Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights. Dan Kelly said.
Santa Teresa’s unpaid rent came to light in 2019 in a counterclaim filed against residents by Territory Families, Housing and Communities.
The court later dismissed the case due to a lack of evidence as to how the approximately $20,000 debt per household was calculated.
“It was very painful for those living in Santa Teresa who were simply looking to have their rental homes repaired to legal standards,” Kelly said.
“The problem arose due to the complexity of the rental system and inadequate recordkeeping and management by the department.”
According to Kelly, the resident claimed to have paid his rent and was unaware of the debt until he took legal action to improve his living conditions.
The Grata Fund said questions remain about territorial family, housing and community recordkeeping and how the $69.7 million debt is calculated.
It also highlights $800,000 the NT government allegedly spent over the past two and a half years fighting residents of Laramba and Santa Teresa in court.
In a statement, the department said the Remote Rent Framework was introduced to replace the previous system, which was confusing and difficult for tenants to manage.
“The framework is simple and easy to understand, with built-in safeguards to protect people from rental stress when rent paid by tenants exceeds 25% of household income,” the spokesperson said. increase.
Work on the new system began in 2018 with key stakeholders, including a working group that included leaders from the housing sector.
“Tenant representatives have visited more than 80 communities to provide tenants with information about the new framework,” said a spokesperson.
“The discussion included informing tenants that they no longer have to pay security deposits and that past rental obligations through December 11, 2021 will not be pursued.”