Housing Trust boss recalls living on $2 a week as a single mum

Call for help: Michele Adair recalled being a single mum with only $2 a week to feed her young children as she pleaded for the community, the private sector and governments to do more to help the homeless. Picture: Sylvia Liber.
Call for help: Michele Adair recalled being a single mum with only $2 a week to feed her young children as she pleaded for the community, the private sector and governments to do more to help the homeless. Picture: Sylvia Liber.

There was a time when as a young single mum Michele Adair had just $2 a week to feed her children.

On Friday she drew from that experience and another from her childhood to plea for help for the growing number of people in similar situations.

It was part of a powerful acceptance speech that will be remembered for years after the Housing Trust chief executive was named Outstanding Business Leader of the Year at the 2021 NSW Illawarra Business Awards.

In it she pleaded for anyone who can, to do anything they can to address the Illawarra region's growing housing crisis.

Ms Adair shared her own personal story to explain the present situation for so many families in the region.

She said everyone deserves a safe and decent home. Including heroes who fought so hard help others in the community during devastating bushfires and global COVID-19 pandemic.

The recognition for Ms Adair came just weeks after she launched a new #Homes4LocalHeroes campaign and just days before the Housing Trust hosts a free online affordable rental forum on Wednesday to discuss the housing crisis in the region.

She said the Housing Trust's vision was "a decent home for everyone" and by working together as a community we can help achieve that.

"A home that is safe, secure and affordable is a human right," Ms Adair said.

"It is not simply a product that is to be produced for profit.

"If you are under the age of 45 you have only a 50 per cent chance of ever owning a home.

"In Australia tonight there are over 7500 women staying in violent and abusive relationships because they simply have nowhere else safe to go.

"In NSW we need at least 50,000 more safe, affordable, decent homes, so that people can get a job, educate their kids, manage their health and rebuild their lives."

Good times: Michele Adair with as a young girl her family at the beach when her father Keith Richardson was still alive.

Good times: Michele Adair with as a young girl her family at the beach when her father Keith Richardson was still alive.

Ms Adair said please remember her whenever you hear people say they don't want "those people" living near them, or "those sort of people" as a tenant, or "that sort of housing" in their street or suburb."

"When you hear that please remember me, my son Jason and my daughter Kate, because we were those people. After I paid my rent I had $2 to feed by kids, pay the electricity and try and rebuild our lives."

"It is not appropriate but it is a reality that you feel so much shame and embarrassment which is why I have chosen to tell my story. If my voice can be a voice that speaks for others than that is a privilege."

Michele Adair with her broether Jason and father Keith Richardson not long before he died.

Michele Adair with her broether Jason and father Keith Richardson not long before he died.

In calling for an end to that stigma associated with people struggling to find a home to live, Ms Adair, spoke of her struggles, first as a eight-year old girl, and then later as a single mother of two children.

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"My dad died very unexpectedly of pancreatic cancer when he was only 46," she said.

"It was 1971 and our family, just like everybody else's at the time, was solely reliant on his wage.

"He fell sick at Christmas and died 12 weeks later. I had my ninth birthday just a couple of days before he died. Had he not had life insurance mum would have lost the home. It allowed mum (Clare Richardson) to keep the home and keep my brother safe and secure."

Ms Adair's second experience happened when her husband suddenly left when her daughter was three and her son was almost 5.

Michele Adair with her daughter Kate and son Jason when they were living on $2 a week for groceries and electricity.

Michele Adair with her daughter Kate and son Jason when they were living on $2 a week for groceries and electricity.

"We had been self employed. I lost the home, lost the car and lost absolutely everything. I couldn't afford to rent. I had nothing," she said.

Ms Adair said it was only with the support of family and friends that she found her feet again and secured a job. But then the company she was working for went into receivership.

"That was when things really bottomed out. I was paying $250 a week in rent and the single parent pension was $252 a week. But I felt very privileged because a very dear friend left a box of groceries on the doorstep for me every week so I could feed the kids. It was only 10 years later that I found out who it was."

Ms Adair said that was a great example of someone in the community doing a little thing that meant so much.

She said what happened to her as a child and then as a young mum, she had not control over. And that is the case for so many people who find themselves without a job and without a home.

She said the death of a spouse or a separation are often reasons women find themselves homeless.

And the lack of affordable housing options is a primary reason many other women stay in violent and abusive relationships.

Michele Adair's children Jason and Kate with their grandmother Clare Richardson around the time they were living on just $2 a week.
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Michele Adair's children Jason and Kate with their grandmother Clare Richardson around the time they were living on just $2 a week. .

Ms Adair said rental housing affordability was a national crisis that will require the general public, private enterprise and all levels of government and elected leaders working together to fix.

"The crisis that we have in housing in Australia today is not just people struggling to get a mortgage. It is people simply struggling to have a home," she said.

"If there is anything you can do, do all that you can to work towards getting every Australian safe, secure, affordable homes. Without it we have absolutely nothing."

Ms Adair said there are many different things people can do.

If they have a home that this is empty they can help by letting the Housing Trust let it out at an affordable rent.

She encouraged investment property owners not to keep jacking up the rent every six months because that is one of the things pushing people into housing stress.

And leading up to the local government elections voters should ask candidates what they are going to do to help address the issue.

When you hear people say they don't want those people living near them - please remember me, please remember my son Jason and please remember my daughter Kate, because we were those people

Michele Adair

Ms Adair said with a local government election just around the corner it was a perfect time to have a free virtual public affordable rental forum on the housing crisis issue at 4pm on Wednesday.

She said even the workers who were hailed as heroes for keeping our communities afloat during recent bushfires and the pandemic can no longer afford to live in the region.

She said that includes nurses, teachers, small business owners, aged care workers, preschool and early learning centre directors and many people working in hospitality and retail.

"We need these people to help rebuild our economy and they are also the ones who don't have appropriate housing," she said.

"Of the top 10 growth industries moving forward seven of the 10 are in the lowest wage categories."

The forum is part of the Our Homes 4 Local Heroes campaign, launched last month.

Ms Adair said one solution to the housing crisis was affordable rental housing, provided by not-for-profit community organisations and rented below the market price to people on moderate incomes who can't afford to rent, let alone buy a home.

The forum will also explore how local councils can work with community housing providers and other levels of government to provide homes that people on lower incomes can afford.

Ms Adair said if every developer included a 20 per cent affordable housing component in their developments that would make "a huge difference".

Housing Trust chair Roy Rogers described the Illawarra Business Award as worthy recognition for a tireless advocate, 'who lives, sleeps and breathes helping those in greatest need every day.'

"Michele's four years at the helm of the Housing Trust has lifted our profile dramatically but more importantly has found new, decent homes for hundreds of people facing homelessness through no fault of their own," he said.

The Outstanding Business Leader of the Year Award presented by Business Illawarra recognises an inspirational business leader each year who demonstrates an outstanding entrepreneurial spirit, strategic leadership in business direction and innovative ideas while providing leadership to the next generation.

This story Housing Trust boss recalls living on $2 a week as a single mum first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.