10 May 2022

Community sector urges Housing ACT to drop 'distressing' forced relocations

| Ian Bushnell
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yvette berry

Housing and Suburban Development Minister Yvette Berry is again under pressure. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Forced relocations of ACT public housing tenants should be abandoned in favour of an opt-in scheme, according to the community sector and a former chief minister.

Thirteen organisations and former Labor Chief Minister Jon Stanhope are alarmed by the impact of the ACT Government’s Growth and Renewal Program on vulnerable Canberrans living in ACT public housing.

In an open letter to Housing and Suburban Development Minister Yvette Berry and Homlessness and Housing Services Minister Rebecca Vassarotti, they say the removal program mostly impacts older women. The letter states 83 per cent of tenants are older than 50 and 87 per cent of women are living alone or with children.

More than half (61 per cent) have physical or psychological disabilities, chronic health conditions, or are caring for dependents within the household; 17 per cent are single mothers with dependent children; and 14 per cent identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.

“While we all acknowledge the acute need for more public housing, we are of the strong view that forcibly relocating vulnerable tenants threatens to cause significant harm to these individuals and is not an acceptable way to raise revenue,” the letter states.

“It is also important to ensure public housing continues to be spread across Canberra.”

READ ALSO Probing the polls: protesters’ rights and public housing

The letter states the government should not target a cross-section of elderly tenants, women, people with disabilities and those with mental illness. Instead, it should focus on tenants willing and able to relocate if offered a suitable, alternative property to live in.

The government says the removal program is necessary so older properties can be sold to fund new housing or the sites redeveloped to provide modern and appropriate homes for Housing ACT tenants.

In February, Housing ACT started advising the estimated 300 selected tenants that they would have to move. Many have been in the same home for decades.

But the blowback forced the government to review the program’s exemptions process while insisting it was still on track.

The Opposition said Housing ACT had botched the entire procedure.

The ACT Council of Social Services called on the government to move to an opt-in process. The ACT community sector has now joined the call.

The open letter states the prospect of being forced to leave has led to distress, anxiety and confusion among tenants.

“They have not been given timeframes, processes through which to apply for exemptions or appeal decisions, or any certainty about where Housing ACT proposes to rehouse them,” the letter states.

“This lack of information has caused an enormous amount of distress and feelings of being disrespected and powerless.”

READ ALSO Government rejects claims of a drop in spending on public housing

It states that given the age, needs, abilities and vulnerabilities of the tenants, forcing them out of their homes risks significant hardship and harm.

“We urge the ACT Government to redesign the Growth and Renewal program as a voluntary opt-in relocation program which incorporates the key elements of tenant consultation and engagement with clear processes and timeframes, and abandon elements that rely on forced relocation,” the letter states.

It is signed by Genevieve Bolton, Executive Director / Principal Solicitor, Canberra Community Law; Dr Emma Campbell, Chief Executive Officer, ACTCOSS; Carmel Franklin, Director, Care Financial Counselling Service Inc; Elena Rosenman, CEO, Women’s Legal Centre ACT; Agata Pukiewicz, Principal Solicitor, Care Consumer Law; Joel Dignam, Executive Director, Better Renting; Bec Cody, Chief Executive Officer, Mental Health Community Coalition ACT; Nicolas Lawler, Chief Executive Officer, Advocacy for Inclusion – Incorporating People with Disabilities ACT; Jenny Mobbs, Chief Executive Officer, Council on the Ageing ACT; Dalane Drexler, Chief Executive Officer, ACT Mental Health Consumer Network Inc.; Cheryl O’Donnell, CEO Canberra PCYC Inc.; Kerry Weste, President, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights; Julie Tongs, CEO, Winnunga Nimmityjah (Strong Health) Aboriginal Health and Community Services; and Jon Stanhope, former ACT Chief Minister.

The renewal program aims to add 400 new homes to the Housing ACT portfolio and deliver 1400 modern homes.


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Mike of Canberra11:35 am 12 May 22

The failings of the welfare state are highlighted repeatedly. This article relates to forced relocations of housing tenants. But elsewhere is an article about a welfare recipient living in an environment so putrid that she is on charges. The common feature? Lifelong welfare dependence. Why has this welfare state monster been allowed to grow in this manner? After all, the welfare state originally was about levelling the playing field somewhat for people who had become economically and socially marginalised through no fault of their own, especially in Britain after World War 2. But what has it become in the modern era? A trap for the unwary and the indolent and dead weight on the back of the general community that’s what, with long-term welfare dependence risking a lifetime of idleness and poverty. A key turning point in Australia was the introduction of the Supporting Parents Benefit, designed to widen the range of choices available for unmarried women who fell pregnant. But of course, what’s emerged subsequently has been a true welfare trap, not only for the women involved but also for taxpayers who provide the funding for all of this, with the Benefit becoming essentially a gateway to lifelong welfare dependence. Julia Gillard, when Prime Minister, attempted to place a cap on welfare by requiring the Supporting Parents Benefit to cut out when the youngest child in such a household turned 8. This, of course, became little more than a “moths to the flame” scenario. What we really need is a drive to place a numerical limit on the number of children for which a woman can claim this benefit. I can almost guarantee such a move over time would essentially close this welfare gateway, to the social and economic benefit of all of us.

When the ACT government sold off thousands of inner city public housing dwellings to property developers they promised to replace the dwellings with new public housing. It just hasn’t happened.

The only way they can deliver on this promise is to move aged singles and couples out of family homes. Unfortunately for the tenants themselves the government has to follow through on the process it started. But hopefully it’s better for the city long term.

The ACT government talks a great game about higher density in the inner city, but seems to be leaving it to property developers and private landlords (who seem to be driven more by profit than by quality urban planning and design).

One of the issues with older housing, public or private is that generally, they are not energy efficient and at times may be of poor standard.

So while the Government is looking to force private landlords to upgrade their properties to provide better quality accommodation, I guess they have to do the same with their public housing stock and if this means relocating people, it needs to happen.

Sadly, the Government’s Land Tax adds considerably to the cost of rental accommodation, which traps many families or individuals and puts more pressure on the public system.

Natalie O'Hara10:14 am 12 May 22

I think people need to be respectful of the opportunity given to them in understanding that they were given safe homes designated to their needs at the time of allocation.
If their needs have changed (no longer having children at home or income status) or more suitable accommodation can be provided (disability) then holding on to a home for personal reasons and withholding another person the right to the same opportunity is understandably unfair.
Although i do believe more support with relocation and mental health need to be addressed.
Costs of moving, stress of packing and unpacking can be overwhelming for those that may not be able to do it on their own.
Houses that require extensive repair are only wasting resources better spent providing homes and support for people within the ACT housing community.

If people could rent out a room in their house or flat (that they are living in) without paying Land Tax, this might help some people find a place to live. Imagine what a disincentive needing to pay land tax is for the low rent received on a single room. That’s likely to eat up most if not all of the rent received, as the rent for one room is a fraction of the rent for a whole house.
When I was younger, before Land Tax, I rented out rooms. It was good for both parties. A reasonably priced room and I got money to help pay the mortgage.


[“If your home is occupied by a person rent-free, you do not have to pay land tax.
If the occupant does pay you nominal rent (only enough to cover the cost of rates, repairs, maintenance and insurance for the property) you do not have to pay land tax. If the rent is above this amount land tax will apply.”]

Imagine the Land Tax (normally for a whole rented hose) being applied to $100 to $200 (a week) for a single room. Land Tax is about $87 a week where I live. That’s a big chunk out of a single room rent, and a huge disincentive to rent out a room and give someone a place to stay. I imagine these days fewer people rent out rooms in their house, which is a lost supply of accommodation, and so those rooms sit empty.

Natalie O'Hara4:14 pm 12 May 22

The only risk with renting rooms is the danger vunrable people are put in with a tenant they accommodate.
Its difficult to find a respectable tenant in private accommodation at times but to mix tenants with mental health, disability, addiction or DV history.
Not only make the housing applicant difficult to accommodate towards others but also place them in unnecessary risks of further difficult situations where its difficult to navigate due to mental health if things turn for the worst.
If there is strict guidelines and support for these particular circumstances then its possible, but i feel it would have to be strategically planned and implemented.

It’s disgusting that one person can hold a government house for life when there’s a huge wait for families. They should be forced to move to size appropriate housing, after all they don’t even own it

So families with children are suppose to remain on the waiting list, while one or two people occupy a large house? And those staying in the house complain – disgustingly selfish!!!

a lot is two words3:09 pm 11 May 22

Soooo based on pretty much every comment here and your own poll that you link to in the article (which shows 76% of respondents were supportive of the relocations and only 24% thought tenants shouldn’t be made to move)….. the open letter is a pretty unpopular view. You have public housing tenants AND the majority of the public saying this program is a good thing. Write about that! Your headlines on this topic are all so biased and clearly aren’t reflecting community views.

People would be shocked to know exactly how many stand-alone homes there are in Canberra, on big blocks of land, with only one occupant.
While families sit on wait-lists and live in cars/streets/sheds.

As long as the funds from these homes ARE spent on building multiple new homes, I say those who complain are extremely selfish.

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