The ACT Government has been forced to adjust its plans to relocate public housing tenants but has hit out at the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) for suggesting that the implementation of the Growth and Renewal program was under review.
Public housing tenants who faced having to move from their long-held homes so they can be sold to help finance new housing or be redeveloped may receive a reprieve after the government agreed to review the exemption process.
ACTCOSS said on Monday (4 April) that after a meeting with the Minister for Housing, Yvette Berry, and the Minister for Homelessness and Housing Services, Rebecca Vassarotti, on Friday (1 April), the government had agreed to review the implementation of the Growth and Renewal program, including arrangements for granting exemptions.
But the government refuted this late on Monday, saying it had only agreed that ACT Housing would continue to “refine and better articulate processes” for tenants seeking exemptions from inclusion in the program and on the provision of ongoing relocation support, “so these processes can be better understood by tenants and stakeholders”.
It said that despite assurances provided by ACTCOSS at the meeting of its support for the government’s policy direction and the Growth and Renewal program, the Ministers are concerned that the ACTCOSS statement may cause uncertainty and some confusion for affected tenants.
It insisted that the relocation program was on track and integral to the government’s commitment to renew 1000 homes and add 400 homes to the Housing ACT portfolio during this term of government, as outlined in the Parliamentary and Governing Agreement.
Housing ACT would work in close consultation with the Growth and Renewal Inclusive Partnership (GRIP) group, which consists of representatives from ACT Shelter, Northside Community Services, Woden Community Services, Legal Aid and ACT Disability Aged and Carer Advocacy Service (ADACAS).
The government said tenants might not be forced to relocate in extenuating circumstances.
It said this would be decided on a case-by-case basis with consideration given to the tenant’s age, health, personal circumstances and the property, including its safety, size and potential to build multiple dwellings.
ACTCOSS, in partnership with key member organisations, has been advocating on behalf of tenants facing relocation since February, when Housing ACT revealed its plans.
ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said the Ministers had committed to provisions that protect vulnerable tenants from eviction where it is unjust.
“Further, they assured ACTCOSS that anyone who feels that they have been unjustly impacted can contact the ministers’ offices to provide details of their circumstances,” she said.
“Although the ministers did not put a timeframe on the review, ACTCOSS believes that given the widespread distress caused to many of the over 340 people affected, the review should be completed quickly and that new discretion arrangements should be implemented as soon as possible.”
Last week ACTCOSS and other ACT community sector organisations wrote to the government, calling on it to immediately end all forced relocations of ACT public housing tenants under the program and to introduce a voluntary ‘opt-in’ relocation program where tenants are offered properties that suit their needs.
Housing Minister Yvette Berry said on Monday that the government was committed to ensuring that tenants being asked to relocate receive wraparound support services to ensure that their individual needs are met before, during and after the relocation process.
“I know moving house can be incredibly difficult and stressful,” she said.
“Housing ACT will continue to work closely with tenants, their support networks and community service providers as part of an extensive engagement process to relocate tenants to alternative housing that best meets their housing needs both now and into the future. There are dedicated Relocation Officers to facilitate the process for tenants from beginning to end.
“Housing ACT will support affected tenants to obtain accessible housing, identify individual needs, find the right home in the right area, provide help with moving, and ensure access to any supports needed throughout the process.”
Housing ACT said in February the renewal program had reached the end of voluntary relocations and if it was to reach its targets for new housing, tenants would have to be moved on to new homes more suited to their needs, are accessible and more climate-wise.
It sent letters to affected tenants advising them that they would have to move but tenants, who in some instances had been in the same home for decades, felt blindsided.
At the time, Dr Campbell said ACTCOSS supported in principle the efficient management of and reinvestment in housing stock but had deep concerns about how the renewal program was being implemented.
“We don’t understand the basis on which Housing ACT has selected some of these houses,” she said then.
Opposition Housing spokesperson Mark Parton said the government had botched the entire process.
“It has been a complete train-wreck with the government seeking advice from community organisations in the lead-up to the implementation but then completely ignoring the advice,” Mr Parton said.
He added that his office was inundated with calls and emails from distressed tenants.
“I’ll be scrutinising this process very closely to make sure that it actually occurs and that it provides better outcomes,” Mr Parton said.
The Ministers encourage affected tenants to contact the Tenant Relocation Officers listed on the Housing ACT letter.