16 June 2022

Berry hits out at ACTCOSS as public housing relocation hearings get underway

| Ian Bushnell
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Yvette Berry outside the Legislative Assembly

Housing and Suburban Development Minister Yvette Berry is disappointed with ACTCOSS’s stance. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Hearings to decide whether public housing tenants are exempt from having to relocate as part of the renewal program are getting underway today, but the process has again come under attack from the peak community sector body.

The ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) accused the government of giving 10 tenants only 48 hours to prepare their cases for exemption.

ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said that despite assurances from the government that the organisation would be updated on a “refined process” for granting exemptions, it had been kept in the dark.

She said the government was supposed to supply a copy of an Exemption Policy and Practice Guideline once finalised, but this had not happened.

“We were therefore astonished to hear that tenants were contacted yesterday and told they had just 48 hours to prepare their case to appear before a ‘Tenant Relocation Exemption Panel’,” she said.

“Further, no information has been made available to tenants or the community sector as to the criteria for decision making; composition, qualification and independence of the panel; time period for the delivery of decisions; whether decisions can be appealed; and whether tenants can appear remotely.”

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Dr Campbell said Canberra Community Law had advised ACTCOSS of tenants receiving emails and phone messages on Tuesday (14 June) asking to them appear today (16 June) to state why they should not have to move to new homes so theirs could either be sold or bulldozed for new properties as part of the public housing renewal program.

She said this gave tenants little time to organise time off, advocates to support them and compile a case for staying put.

“We just want a fair process to determine that and giving 48 hours to vulnerable people to put their case forward is certainly not a fair process,” Dr Campbell said.

Dr Emma Campbell

ACTCOSS CEO Emma Campbell: “We just want a fair process.” Photo: Region Media.

Housing and Suburban Development Minister Yvette Berry has rejected ACTCOSS’s claims.

“It is disappointing that today’s statement from ACTCOSS may cause unnecessary distress to Housing ACT tenants who are part of the Growing and Renewing Public Housing program,” she said.

Ms Berry said that on Tuesday, 10 tenants who applied for an exemption early in the process had been invited to meet with the Tenant Relocation Exemption Panel today or tomorrow.

“However, these meetings will be ongoing and no one needs to attend a meeting this week if they don’t want to,” she said.

“These meetings are just an opportunity for tenants and any support people they’d like to bring to attend a meeting to discuss their needs and reasons for seeking an exemption to relocation to support their application if they wish to.

“The ACT Government is committed to ensuring that people have a chance to discuss why they may not want to move and to talk about what supports they might need if they do.”

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Housing ACT said that of 10 tenants contacted, three had requested a Panel session at a later date, three are attending this week in person, one is attending by phone and three have asked not to attend a Panel session in relation to their application for exemption.

It said the 10 tenants were told that the Panel, which includes non-government representatives, would consider their requests for exemption.

“Some tenants have been waiting since April 2022 for a decision regarding exemption, so were offered the first available opportunity to attend a Panel session,” Housing ACT said.

“These Panel sessions are not formal hearings. They are an opportunity for tenants and any support people they’d like to bring to attend a meeting to discuss their needs and reasons for seeking an exemption to relocation.”

Housing ACT said there would be multiple Panel sessions, and tenants could choose a later date if they prefer.

All tenants were advised by phone and/or email that they could attend or nominate a representative to attend a Panel in person or over the phone if they wished to.

To date, nine tenants have been given an exemption, 26 have refused to move, 101 have agreed to relocate and are waiting to move, and 350 have already moved.

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Housing ACT said it was committed to ensuring tenants clearly understood the exemptions process and related information and was rolling out information to tenants progressively.

Age, health and wellbeing were the main criteria for exemption and there needed to be a strong connection between the requirement to move and a significant risk to health and wellbeing.

The Panel would consider these reasons and the tenant’s ability to relocate in balance with the needs of the renewal program, which has a target of building 1,400 new dwellings by 2024-25.

ACTCOSS supports building new public housing but believes there are alternatives to relocating tenants who have been in the same properties for decades and do not want to move.

Dr Campbell said this included relocating other tenants who would be happy to move, extra government investment and providing affordable land with rates rebates to the community housing sector so it could also deliver more properties.

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Maybe someone needs to look into the bullying and yelling tactics of ACTCOSS leadership that continues to erode any trust of a tenant, sounds like most are happy to move to a new, appropriate energy efficient home.

These people are being supplied homes from taxpayer funds. They should be happy that they have been provided somewhere to live rather than complaining.

Why should they have more rights than people who have to pay for their own rent?

Anthea Brouwer10:09 pm 16 Jun 22

We are paying rent. 25 per cent of our gross income. Some of us had no choice but to live in public housing due to escaping domestic violence or living on minimum wage which does not cover private rent, bills and food. But we are working.

Renters have choices, would you want to move into a complex that takes 18months to 2 years to recover from living there. Housing sometimes adheres to a tenants rights but they seem to prefer my way or the highway. Renters can live where they like whereas housing only gives 2 choices. When you talk about tax payers funds, housing tenants do pay rent and their rent is subsidised through Centrelink like many private renters.

PI,
Why would you need to “recover” from living there?

And sorry, but renters are in the same boat, they don’t have the choice to force the owner of their rental property to let them stay there if they feel like it.

People in public housing should be grateful for the assistance they are given.

They shouldn’t be complaining that the government is looking to use the limited amount of public housing and funding in the most efficientanner possible.

Linda Seaniger3:19 pm 16 Jun 22

I’m all for public housing and using public-housing resources to suit the family profiles and current incomes
Of the people in need. That said the current Labor government has not been doing a good job for the last 15 years. It’s time for change of government Hopefully then We will get better town planning practices, urbanMaintenance, and effective transport and infrastructure investment.

I generally support the need for Housing to manage their properties, including marching properties to family needs, redevelopment, relocation etc.
That said, I expect that for a large number of tenants, fronting a tribunal to argue their case for an exemption is something that they may not be skilled in or something which they can adequately prepare.

A lot of this comes back to the staggering fact that there’s less public housing properties in Canberra than there was a decade ago. What happened to all those new public housing developments that were ‘meant’ to be replacing Inner North and Inner South public housing that was sold off to developers???

The ACT government’s lack of will to build new public housing AND open up opportunities for Community Housing like the other states and territories have has created this problem.

On top of this, the lack of new public housing being supplied to the market across all areas of Canberra, has meant that the housing authority has kicked the can down the road and ignored single and couple renters in family homes long term.

Ian Bushnell’s March article hits the nail on the head. The ACT administration appears to have managed to frighten some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

Why do I feel very sorry for these tenants they are renting these properties.

I understand that the rental periods may be decades but they are still in the final analysis – renting.

If there is a lack of redevelopment of public-housing, with the opportunity to create more housing for people in need that is halted because of their opinion that they should be allowed to stay then that is not a good outcome for the ACT.

Exactly. Yes, I feel sorry for them but as you said, they are tenants. They don’t own the property. Many people have been in those properties for 30 plus years. I understand that they have their family, their friends and their support networks around them. Their health care practitioners, etc. However, when Housing attempts to move these tenants, there is a lot of work which goes into trying to ensure that the tenants are moved to a suitable property. One near all of their supports. As far as I am aware, no tenant is being forced to move.
If the tenants don’t move, then the properties or land cannot be recommissioned as new developments.

The ABC just interviewed someone of these people. People like Jenny Fields, The Canberra widow has managed to remain independent despite being blind and aged in her 90s. Given 48 hours noticed.

We are talking about people here, with disabilities, elderly often with not enough support given 2 days vs the government with 300 plus staff.

The goverment could have not sold new properties it had marked years ago but decided to

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