Real estate agents and landlords are discriminating against Aboriginal people in Canberra and contributing to one of the highest rates of indigenous homelessness in the country, say welfare and tenants' groups.
Homelessness Australia chief Nicole Lawder said the ACT had the second highest rate of indigenous homelessness in Australia, after the Northern Territory.
Speaking before the St Vincent de Paul Society's forum on homelessness to be held in Canberra on Thursday, Ms Lawder said more than 14 per cent of homeless people in Canberra were Aboriginal, despite representing just a small fraction of the ACT population.
The reasons for indigenous homelessness in Canberra were complex, including finding big enough homes to accommodate large families, but feedback suggested racial discrimination was also a factor, she said.
''People in the real estate industry merely reflect what's happening in the wider population,'' she said. ''Some real estate agents may feel they're trying to keep their owners best interest at heart and achieve the best possible tenants, therefore displaying their indirect discrimination against Aboriginal clients.''
Deborah Pippen, executive officer of the Tenants' Union ACT, said she had heard many indigenous families complain of difficulty finding rental properties in Canberra.
Ms Pippen said some Aboriginal people might also be unwilling to complain about racism in case it played against them in their search for a property.
''It's whether they want to come forward, because they're actually looking and desperate for somewhere, whether they want to rock the boat by standing up and saying there are problems,'' she said.
But Real Estate Institute of the ACT head Michael Kumm said discriminating against tenants based on race was illegal, which was included in agents' training.
''They're very aware of what the act says and what they can and can't do,'' he said.
He said the institute had not received any complaints regarding indigenous people being discriminated against and he was not aware of any such problem Canberra.
But he encouraged Aboriginal people who felt they were being overlooked for rental properties based on their race to make contact with his organisation.
''At the moment there are quite a few properties available to rent and I'm sure the landlords and real estate agents would take every application on its merit,'' he said.
Ms Pippen said indigenous people living in rental properties were often reluctant to complain if there were problems with the home for fear of being evicted. She said agents should be trained in cultural sensitivity and the importance of adhering to anti-discrimination laws.
''Real estate agents feel they have to to do as the landlord wants, and if the landlord says I don't want Aboriginal people or people from a certain community, they will feel they have to take that on board, rather than saying, you can't do that,'' she said.
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