The importance of appropriate housing
Several months ago, in the middle of Melbourne's lockdown, the owner of the share house in which i'd been living served the three of us with an eviction notice: he was selling the property.
i'd been wanting to move for a while, but there always seemed to be another thing with higher priority. The eviction notice changed that, of course, and as a result, i moved into my own place a few months ago - a first-floor studio apartment, consisting of a single large room plus the bathroom. i'm paying over twice as much rent as i was, though this is partially offset by the fact that utilities are included in my rent, whereas at my old place, i was usually paying a third of the utility bills despite not being there much of the time.
My old share house was on what is effectively the same arterial road as my new apartment, but a busier section of it, with a greater proportion of heavy vehicle traffic. But the apartment has better soundproofing, such that the same buses are much less noticeable here.
More important than that, however, is the fact that i have the apartment to myself.
At my old place, there was a television only a few metres away from my bedroom door, and it was on for ~16 hours per day. Even at an appropriate volume, it was constant low-level background noise. My housemates, whilst lovely people, were loathe to do dishes regularly and keep the kitchen clean overall: the main bench was rarely wiped down, and regularly covered from one end to the other with used dishes, utensils etc. The rubbish and recycling were regularly overflowing when i came back after having been away for several days. To do any basic food preparation would typically require me to spend time cleaning first. As a result, when staying there rather than at a partners', i tended to order in. Overall, in an attempt to minimise the sensory and energetic impacts of being there, i spent most of my time in my room.
Since moving into my new place, my mental and physical health has improved significantly. The substantial decrease in ongoing noise has noticeably reduced my stress levels, my ‘on-edge-ness’. i'm eating better because i no longer have to clean up after others in order to prepare a meal. Feeling less pinned to my bedroom, i'm finding myself going out for walks more, and more regularly.
Being diagnosed this year with both autism and ADHD has explained - amongst many other things - why the sort of issues i faced in my previous house were taking such a toll. i recently read the short book “Sensory Trauma: Autism, Sensory Difference and the Daily Experience of Fear”[a], and found it rather challenging due to being so relatable. Many people simply can't seem to grok how what i've described was such a big deal for me; my experience has been that people who aren't neurodivergent giving the impression that, whilst acknowledging that it would be a bit annoying and frustrating, any stronger emotional reaction is simply being [melo|over]dramatic.
But no. The new housing has made a huge improvement to my life, even if i'm now paying more than 55% of my income for it. And it makes me think about how many other people are suffering because they can't financially afford appropriate housing, because apparently it's more important to prioritise a privileged group of people being able to have/flip multiple investment properties, rather than the prioritising the development of appropriate, affordable and stable housing for all[b].☙
Ms Blacher admits the stress involved in finding rental accommodation and moving frequently has taken its toll.
“I have had bouts of incredible anxiety and depression,” she said.
“You never put down roots, you never create community. You don't meet people.
“You stop unpacking your boxes, you stop creating home. You're constantly living in transition, waiting until you have to move again.”
Ms Blacher says she doesn't bother unpacking her suitcase now.
Ms Blacher said that in the past 10 years, the longest she had spent in one house was two years.