4 March 2022

Housing ACT needs to go back to basics after botching relocation process

| Ian Bushnell
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Emma Campbell

ACTCOSS CEO Emma Campbell wants Housing ACT to put the process on hold. Photo: Region Media.

Whichever way you look at it, something has gone wrong with Housing ACT’s new push to relocate tenants as part of its public housing renewal program.

Its strategy to sell older properties to reinvest the proceeds or redevelop the sites to provide more homes is not news. It has been approaching tenants for years and asking them if they want to relocate to a new and more befitting home. The trouble is, too many of them have wanted to stay put for a variety of reasons.

Many have been in the one property for decades, they like where they live and are embedded in the community. Many are elderly, vulnerable and have complex needs (in the parlance of the community sector). Staying with what they know means they can feel safe.

But Housing ACT has got to the point where it needs to ramp up the program to meet all its targets by its end date in 2025.

Hence the letters to more than 300 households advising that time was up and they would have to move. They gave no timeframe or removal date but said a dedicated Relocation Officer would be visiting to discuss the matter.

READ MORE ACTCOSS calls on Housing ACT to put ‘heartless’ relocation process on hold

An attached fact sheet provided a list of community organisations that they could contact for support, including legal aid.

But staying where they are was not an option.

That was enough to throw many into a panic, inundating those community organisations who were unaware of Housing ACT’s letter.

That apparent blindsiding of the sector which had long been providing input into the public housing program was a mistake, sparking a furious response from ACT Council of Social Services CEO Emma Campbell. She labelled it heartless and is now calling for a pause so ACTCOSS and the government can sit down and sort the mess out.

Housing ACT insists that eviction will be a last resort, that the process will involve multiple steps and tenants can be supported along the way.

But it has got off on the wrong foot, distressing tenants like 55-year-old Ann from Charnwood who has cerebral palsy and medical conditions and has been in the same house for 33 years, as well as an 80-year-old tenant with dementia.

The government is also getting offside with a sector that has a key stake in the process.

READ ALSO Is having children really the ‘most meaningful’ thing you can do?

The premise of the program is sound and its goals admirable. Some homes are now sitting on land that has soared in value thanks to the property boom, and the considerable sale proceeds will allow more public housing to be built.

Some homes are old, dilapidated and need to make way for new ones.

Some are large properties now occupied by just one or two people, not the families they were intended for.

Housing ACT promises new, modern energy-efficient homes to tenants that better match their needs.

But a change like this needs to be managed sensitively and selectively, and a mass mailout was probably not the way to go.

ACTCOSS says Housing ACT has been opaque about how it is identifying properties and tenants to target, and simply saying there will be a supportive, tailored process doesn’t make it so.

Housing Services Minister Rebecca Vassarotti fielded media questions on behalf of Housing Minister Yvette Berry with a list of talking points, but by the end, even she was having her doubts, answering “my advice is …”

Things need to cool off and Housing ACT should go back to the starting point and properly engage with ACTCOSS and the other organisations involved, and the tenants.

There will probably be good reasons why some tenants should stay where they are, but others, with a bit more than a frightening letter giving them notice, will probably see that, in the end, change will not be so bad.

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Strange how renters of public housing seem to think they own it. They don’t. They need to be reminded that taxpayers pay for there houses while others are not so lucky.
One person in a three bedroom house? Who would think that’s ok? That’s a house for a family

Many people pay market rent for public housing Taxpayers We have all payed tax Hope you cant pay your mortgage one day

concerned ratepayer7:20 pm 04 Mar 22

During the past 5 years there have come vacant 3 government houses in our inner south suburb because older residents have died or been moved into care. Housing put new tenants in when these expensive properties could have been sold at the time. It is apparent that only the older people have been targeted. Our next door neighbours have lived in government housing for 28 years and are established in the community. We purchased our house from the ACT Government with the previous tenant having occupied the house from new. The housing tenants in these 4 properties despite the rising valuations were allowed to stay until death or moved into care. Why can’t the people like our good neighbours be left in situ to die or be moved to care when the time comes? In the past year Housing has caused them immense trauma. The health reasons that existed 28 years ago and qualified them for a government house in an area which was down market at the time still exist today.

canberraslytherin6:45 pm 04 Mar 22

Public Housing in the ACT is managed under the “Public Rental and Housing Assistance Program” (PRHAP) and tenancies are in accordance with the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. Thus housing tenants have a “mainstream” tenancy experience. This is a good thing but not always. In the same way – due to PRHAP and the ‘’ model social landlord’ approach of Housing, it means that situations that would usually lead to a quick eviction in the private rental market are delayed and spread out with many not being evicted.

This relocation program is just that – a relocation program. It was conducted when the Northbourne flats were knocked down and it’s happening now. In a private rental, tenants would get 8 weeks for “sale or major renovations” and be farewelled. Housing tenants are being relocated to a *new* property and having their costs met.

Under-utilisation of properties is widespread in the ACT. The sense of entitlement for one dwelling for “life” seems to be just as much.

As they say, the ‘optics’ are not good.

I rent privately and every 3 or 4 years we get moved on as the landlord sells up or moves in themselves. At times is has been really tough/impossible to find a place to live near the kids schools etc, but that’s life.
Why do these people who have had the fortune to live in these million dollar properties (for minimal rent) feel that they have greater rights?
Especially after 1 or 2 decades in the same spot, they have been truly blessed!
Enter this expert with a PhD in Korean studies who feels the entire process needs to be shelved because she wants to have her say.
God help us.

If you rent privately, sometimes you have to move and find somewhere else to live.
Why should renting from the Government be any different?
Yes, I know, people may have lived there for 20 years etc, but ultimately you are a tenant, not the owner.
If the Government needs you to move out and has offered an alternate property for you to live in, pack your bags.

Are people who need public housing going to get new properties OR is the land going to the developers?

Both; these now million dollar plus homes will be sold to the open market (that will be either people wanting to build themselves a new family home/ or developers wanting to cut down every tree and build yet another ugly duplex).
Either way it’s a fairer reallocation of government funds and assets, many of these million dollar government homes house just one person, while we have people out there sleeping in their cars tonight.
This is unsustainable and unfair.

It would be appropriate if there were already existing premises for these people to go to before they are asked to vacate. That aside, one thing this city needs is more affordable housing. One thing we don’t need under the current circumstances is an extension of the tram to Woden. How about putting that thing on hold and working at getting appropriate living spaces for our more vulnerable people first.

canberraslytherin6:46 pm 04 Mar 22

Too right! More affordable housing is the answer. Sadly CM Barr won’t have a ‘bar’ of community housing providers.

Shouldn’t be a problem for CM Barr and his minions. In the past any older person that questioned his decisions (or those of his underperforming City Council) were mocked as a curmudgeon living in the past and he ran his verbal bulldozer over them. I thought this was the preferred methodology for all his administration in dealing with Canberra residents/rate payers. Should these people move to better accommodation, yes. Is the method for handling this the best one, no. I have sympathy for those older tenants but the world owes us no favours.

swaggieswaggie11:20 am 04 Mar 22

In the real world people upsize and downsize through life as the kids come along and eventually leave home. there is no way a tenant should be living alone in a 3 bedroom public housing unit. It’s greedy, selfish and inconsiderate when there are good decent people on the waiting list for a family unit.

Totally agree with you swaggieswaggie. Too many people are living in a 3 or 4 bedroom property by them selves when there are still people living in refuges or in their cars. Housing needs to get people to downsize.

Capital Retro10:54 am 05 Mar 22

There are no “incentives” to downsize. Every other demographic gets a “freebie” but seniors on fixed incomes get nothing.

So all you need to do is put your fingers in your ears going “lalalalalalala”, then claim you weren’t properly informed?

A large proportion of these people and organisations hear what they want to, they’ve known about this for a long while. There’s nothing more Housing ACT should do except get on with the job of moving these people.

Honestly, imagine expecting for other taxpayers to provide you shelter where you think you’re fully in control of where you live. It may not be nice that some people have to move but they should be grateful for what they’ve been given.

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