Heatwave Safe Homes for Renters event

Last Thursday, over forty people came together for our ‘Heatwave Safe Homes for Renters’ event at Trades Hall in Carlton, with more people joining online. To prepare us for the hot summer ahead, we heard from an incredible panel of renters, health and housing experts about the risks of living in dangerously hot homes and what we can do to keep our communities safe this summer and for the summers to come.

The takeaway message from the event was that your home should keep you safe, it shouldn’t make you sick. We heard from our speakers how extreme heat is a crisis that affects everyone, especially renters who are more likely to live in poorly built homes that become ovens during summer.

RMIT housing researcher Dr. Priya Kunjan spoke to us about the scale of the housing crisis and why renters are particularly vulnerable to extreme heat. They emphasised the need for minimum rental standards across all rental tenure types, including private, public and community housing, and the importance of including climate change adaptation measures in our rental rules so that renters can make simple modifications to keep themselves cool.

Alison Cooke, a Victorian renter and passionate rental advocate spoke about her experience living in hot homes, and how difficult it has been to keep herself safe in summer. She talked about how her requests to her landlord for simple cooling modifications like planting trees to provide shade were consistently rejected. She recounted a particularly difficult summer in 2020 when she was forced to leave the house all day to keep safe and cool. Her home turned into an oven, and no amount of open windows or reflective foil was enough to keep safe. Alison told us that on hot days, she has had to ride on the train until it’s cooled down, which is an additional financial burden on top of skyrocketing rents. Alison’s story was a powerful reminder about the lengths that renters are going to in order to keep themselves safe, and the financial burden of keeping cool when you’re forced to leave your house for days on end to escape the heat.

Alex Darton, a member of the Renters and Housing Union (RAHU) and a long time renter of 20 years, shared his personal story of renting during hot summers and spoke about the importance of collective action and advocacy to secure safe homes for renters. He talked to the mental and physical impacts of renting in poorly insulated homes without any real power to make modifications to keep cool, and emphasised the importance of advocating for better housing regulations including insulation in rental homes.

We heard from Alex Mackie, a resident in Flemington’s over 55’s high rise public housing with extensive experience as a technician in building services. Drawing on his expertise in heating, ventilation and air conditioning, Alex spoke about his concerns for the safety of Melbourne’s high-rise public housing buildings. He talked to us about serious problems within these buildings, including inadequate cooling that puts residents at risk of heat related sickness. As a resident of high-rise public housing himself, he told us about stories he’s heard from other residents, including a woman who has to sleep in her bathroom during summer because her bedroom is dangerously hot. He says there is an urgent need for safety improvements to protect residents from heat related illness, and is calling for better building regulations, improved maintenance, and increased community engagement to keep people safe.

Dr. Genevieve Cowie, a physician and member of Doctors for the Environment Australia spoke about the health impacts of extreme heat, and the challenges faced by renters living in dangerously hot homes. In the context of the climate crisis and rising temperatures, she shared the impact that extreme heat can have on the health of people living in hot and uninsulated homes, and told us about the health risks associated with prolonged exposure to extreme heat, ranging from dehydration and heat exhaustion to more severe conditions like heat stroke. She shared tips on how to stay safe and cool in the heat, and highlighted the importance of proactive measures to protect people from heat related illness and death, including urgent action on climate change to end our reliance on dirty, polluting fossils fuels that heat up our planet and our homes.

To end the night, we rallied everyone to keep the momentum going for Heatwave Safe Homes. People jumped on board, pledging to email their MPs to call for practical solutions to protect our communities from heat related illness and death, sign and share our petition for safe, cool homes and volunteer with Sweltering Cities to grow the movement of people calling for safe homes for everyone.

We are heading into an extremely hot summer, and we need all hands on deck to win heatwave safe homes for everyone. Here’s how you can get involved:

1. Volunteer with us! We are heading into a hot, El Niño summer, and many of us are worried about how we will keep ourselves safe and cool. Right now, we are growing the movement of people calling for Heatwave Safe Homes for Renters, and we need all hands on deck to pressure the Victorian government to act. If you have skills or are passionate about community outreach, networking, research, social media or graphic design we would love to have you onboard to win the campaign for cool, safe homes. Apply to volunteer and we’ll get in touch with you: https://swelteringcities.org/get-involved/

2. Write to your Victorian State MP: If we want to win safe homes for everyone, we need to keep the pressure on the Victorian government. If you write a personal letter to your MP, they have to respond to you. The more of us that send letters, the more likely we are to reach victory (victory being homes that keep us safe, not make us sick). Please get in contact with Sweltering Cities Victorian Community Campaigner, sophie@swelteringcities.org and we’ll send you all the information you need to reach out to your MP.

3. Sign our petition calling for safe, cool homes: In Victoria, renters are living in dangerously hot homes because cooling is not a requirement in our rental rules (even though heating is!). This has to change. Sign the petition to call for cooling to be included in our minimum rental standards. This will save lives and protect our communities this summer and for summers to come. Sign here: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/we-need-safe-homes-put-cooling-in-victorias-rental-minimum-standards/

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