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In defence of new public housing

By Chris Steel MLA - 6 April 2017 32

government housing

Part of living in an egalitarian city means ensuring that our most vulnerable people are supported. It is the measure of our community, and what makes Canberra such a great place to live.

As a Labor candidate one of the reasons I stood for election to ensure our most vulnerable people get the support they need. That’s why now as a Labor Member I also support the Government’s public housing renewal plan and the proposed investment and developments in my electorate to build more quality adaptive housing for existing public housing tenants.

One of the ACT Government’s most important roles is to provide people with a roof over their head, when they and their children cannot afford the private market. It is the first step in tackling any further aspects of disadvantage.

The ACT has always had a significant level of public housing as part of our housing mix. The ‘salt and pepper’ approach of public housing in the ACT has meant that there are small pockets of co-located housing in almost all suburbs (Wright has been, up to now, an exception).

Part of the rationale for this is that tenants are there to support each other and community organisations are there to support the tenants – a supportive housing model.

The supportive housing will be built on parts of Community Facility-zoned land, which is consistent with the permitted uses in the Territory Plan.

Supportive housing is housing for those in need of support. The tenants will be carefully selected by Housing ACT, with assistance from community service organisations, on the basis of their suitability for this type of development in these areas.

The small medium density developments proposed by the Government are a world away from the unsustainable, high density concentrations of disadvantage along Northbourne Avenue.

The Northbourne Flats, in particular, have been ‘hard to let’ to Housing ACT tenants for years, with many remaining empty because they are inappropriate, particularly for families, with many of them one bedroom apartments.

The public housing on Northbourne has reached the end of its useful life. The flats are simply unsuitable for residents – that’s why I’m very supportive of the redevelopment of these flats with residents moving to new, better quality homes throughout our city. Readers may remember that this was successfully achieved in the past with the demolition of unsuitable, high density flats at Burnie Court in Lyons.

This is not the first time that tenants have been moved into more suitable, lower density and better quality accommodation. Several years ago in Chapman and Kambah new adaptive public housing developments were built under the economic stimulus package by the ACT Government. These were very similar in size to the current proposals, and were also built on Community Facilities zoned land. These were also just as controversial at the time in the community.

The final result of these developments has proved the success of the supportive housing model. I doorknocked these housing communities during the election last year and asked some of the residents how they found living there; overwhelmingly it was positive and the people welcoming and friendly. When I doorknocked the Chapman townhouses I didn’t even know it was public housing initially because the quality of the housing was so high and it fitted in so well with the neighbouring community.

While I support more public housing on the Southside, I also support genuine consultation taking place on them with the community. In the past constructive consultation on public housing has led to great outcomes in Kambah, Chapman and in Greenway. For example, in Kambah, on the former Mount Neighbour School, a community room and garden was developed to support the group activities of the residents.

I’ve spoken before about the importance of consultation before development applications are lodged. In this case the ACT Government has assessed suitability of the sites for supportive housing and gone out to consult with the community on the form of the developments before any development applications have been lodged. While it was not ideal that Weston Creek Community Council cancelled its meeting last week due to large numbers, I encourage residents to attend the drop in sessions scheduled this week on Friday and Saturday by registering here. It is an opportunity to ask all their questions of the Public Housing Taskforce and provide specific feedback. This feedback will be used to help shape the final form of any future developments.

I hope that a respectful dialogue with the community through the consultation, both improves the form of the developments, but also builds a better understanding in the community about the needs and aspirations of public housing tenants.

And I encourage all Canberrans to support public housing tenants, because they are people, and as our neighbours they deserve to have quality shelter in a supportive community – sometimes even next door to us.

What’s Your opinion?


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In defence of new public housing
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aussie2 1:08 pm 04 Jan 18

Chris Steele – As I understand it, the Govt is relocating all public tenants ex Northborne and other places which is great. We are ecstatic! However, the dart falls on the fact that no one is identifying and providing homes for the 2000 folk on the public housing waiting lists, or the 2000 homeless out there. What will the Govt do about that, considering the numbers stay the same generally-ie no change. You say “Part of living in an egalitarian city means ensuring that our most vulnerable people are supported. It is the measure of our community, and what makes Canberra such a great place to live.” We can all parrot the words but if your govt were successful, you would be parrotting it from the hilltops. Show me the plan to house those people above! There isn’t one! Very happy to hear from you further.

wildturkeycanoe 7:29 am 11 Apr 17

Chris Steel MLA – Are you still here or has your consultation adopted the same format as the government planning departments, by making a statement and then closing your ears to the ensuing noise of complaints?

Here are some informative figures – from the Asset Recycling Initiative paper,
The proceeds of the sales of the public housing properties along the Northbourne avenue corridor are all going 100% to Capital Metro, an estimated $783 million. There are even 15% bonus payments from the Commonwealth if they are sold before June 30, 2019.
Also, it seems they are getting the residents of the properties relocated before around 2018-19. Does that give enough time to build/find these new public housing apartments?
This paper looks to have been drawn up in 2014-15, so they already had firm plans to sell off these public housing flats and relocate the residents back then, obviously to pave the way for the tram.

Another piece of evidence supporting the views of the community who oppose these new public housing apartment style developments is in the government’s own research – from the Winton Sustainable Research Survey, September 2015 “Well over four in five Canberrans (84.4%) agree that public housing should be provided in smaller developments rather than in large public housing estates, with 9.3% disagreeing and 6.3% ambivalent or unsure. [Tables 4.8a-4.8c]”
And 42.3% of those surveyed were not aware of the consultation process concerning redevelopment of public housing [the question doesn’t state that the redevelopment was going to be in their suburb either].
If the government’s own research showed that people are unhappy about constructing such large developments for public housing, why are they telling us the complete opposite and then acting surprised that residents are angry at them?

The amount of contradiction in the planner’s process and the insistence of pushing their agenda without listening to residents’ concerns, shows how out of touch these politicians are with the community. They had the properties earmarked for sale and demolition in 2014-15, then started surveying [consultation] in late 2016, with now public opinion being sought in 2017 for a project that will not be withdrawn and has a completion date in 2019. It really is all about progress regardless of what Canberran’s want. Without the sale of these buildings, the tram would be financially impossible. So you can see how in secret the Labor government of Canberra has been pushing their plans through even prior to the election last year. Did they somehow know they would be back in power or was it all wishful thinking?

JC 7:44 pm 08 Apr 17

PMB said :

chiflean said :

.The goverment also ensured that they all moved in without any window coverings – again, I expect that the residents all have plenty of money sitting around to spend on window coverings for the whole unit.

I know someone moved before under the circumstance of giving up a 3 bedroom govie house in exchange for a 2 bedroom unit, and they were given an allowance from the government for window fittings. Thing is it wasn’t restricted to window fittings, they could spend the allowance however they saw fit in buying whatever they needed for their new home.

Seeing as residents currently being moved under this program don’t have a choice, you would think the government would compensate them in a similar fashion, but my guess is that if the government advertised that in the current climate another bunch of critics would rise up and start hammering them about it so maybe they’ve chosen to keep it quiet.

It’s a great point though.. Yes public housing basically is a rental unit and seemingly supplied with no curtains. As you pointed about private rental, I know I’ve personally never rented a place that I’ve had to put up the window fittings. Even when I sold my old house I sold it with fittings. New owner didn’t have to keep them but ripping them out really seemed as pointless to me as ripping up the carpet.

That’s what happened with my mum too. She was given a payment to buy window coverings.

Also as she was identified for one of the new builds some 12 months before she also had a choice of floor coverings too. She was able to choose if the living room had tiles or carpet and was able to choose tiles and carpet colours from a style pallet.

It is odd that window coverings are tenant provided but been like that for a very long time. Carpet also used to be tennant provided too.

Garfield 6:18 pm 08 Apr 17

JC said :

wildturkeycanoe said :

Garfield said :

He also failed to mention that the definition of community use land was changed relatively recently, last year I think, to allow public housing when in the past it was for community facilities, not residential use. It sounds like it was pushed through under the radar as I certainly don’t remember the opposition or media picking up on it at the time. .

I just did some research and found the following.
The area in Holder which is planned to have public housing apartment style development is zoned “Community Facility Zone”. Hence, you’d think it supposed to be for the whole community, not for a developer to build public housing which will be only used by tenants of the government.
As for the rules being changed recently, I can’t find any new documents with changes to the development criteria. In all the documentation I can find including one called NI2008-27 Zone Objectives dated 19th August 2016, CFZ land is only allowed to have Supportive Housing, which “is restricted by the lease to persons with special housing needs for reasons of age or disability.”
It also clearly states that multi-unit housing is prohibited. So, I hope the new housing will be used only by people in the above categories, or the government should expect some serious backlash from the local residents. [It isn’t like they aren’t already getting that anyway].

So the government’s own rules concerning development of these spaces, prohibits them from building these public housing units/apartments. If any changes to these rules have been made, they are not currently easy to find on the internet for the public to see.

CFZ says single dwelling development is prohibited. See link below page 3.

http://www.legislation.act.gov.au/ni/2008-27/copy/96341/pdf/2008-27.pdf

And supportive housing as a slightly different meaning to what you are suggesting:

http://www.legislation.act.gov.au/ni/2008-27/copy/110382/pdf/2008-27.pdf

From looking at those links you provided, it appears that there is a big difference between supportive housing and run of the mill public housing. Supportive housing really appears to be for those unable to look after themselves independently. For example it could include aged care, people with mental or physical disabilities, those fleeing domestic violence at short notice, those undergoing drug rehabilitation, people recently released from prison who need some help to get themselves back on their feet so they don’t reoffend, and so on.

The Canberra Times article on 15th March includes statements from government along the lines of existing tenants from the Northbourne flats and those on the waiting list will be moved into these new developments. To my knowledge there is no supportive housing amongst those flats and surely anyone on the waiting list with special needs would be a priority case and placed somewhere quickly, so there shouldn’t be many waiting who need supportive housing. It certainly gives the impression that the government is planning to move standard public housing tenants into these developments rather than those in need of supportive housing. If that is what they’re planning, then it sounds like an illegal land grab to save the cost of purchasing existing properties in which to house the tenants being evicted due to light rail.

Brindie 2:15 pm 08 Apr 17

What Chris has failed to mention is that the public housing intended for Wright, won’t be the nice single storey units pictured with the article. They will be three and two storey flats. Welcome to Burnie Court 2017. Is it any wonder that the local community are so concerned. They lose the one and only site in Wright designated for community facilities. Chris should be advocating on behalf of the people who elected him, not making excuses for a Government which regards consultation as a tick box exercise.

Maya123 12:10 pm 08 Apr 17

chiflean said :

Hilarious that you consider the new developments to be high quality. Have you actually seen the developments of 25 units in Coombs (salt and peppered within a few steps of the next block of 25 units)?

In addition to the heinous chain wire fence the ugly car ports clearly mark them as ‘different’. They are also poorly orientated and have an incredibly inefficient electric panel wall heater for heating (no aircon unless it is very well hidden). I assume the residents will need to spend their minimal incomes paying electricity bills.

The goverment also ensured that they all moved in without any window coverings – again, I expect that the residents all have plenty of money sitting around to spend on window coverings for the whole unit. Many have gone for sheets but it seems so odd to me that what is essentially a rental for people on low incomes does not come with something that would be standard in any private rental. I’m not sure why this is acceptable – can you explain Chris?

Window covers don’t always cost as much as many people imagine, if you go hunting. I curtained all the windows of a rental property I once had for about $100, and the lounge-room windows were floor to ceiling. None of the curtains were hideous and some were like new with very good separate insulation backings. I visited second-hand shops, fetes and asked around if anyone had spare curtains they didn’t want. But I realise asking around often only works if people move in circles where people can give away reasonable quality curtains. Many poor people might mainly mix with other poor people and don’t have this source.

Of also of course realise that even $100 dollars can be a lot for someone on a low income. (I was going to say only the cost of a few packets of cigarettes, but that’s cynical, as I’m sure that not all smoke…or drink.) Then of course that’s only some of the expense. There’s the cost of curtain fittings too. I put my own fittings up, but I already owned the electric drill to do this with. That would be another expense if one was needed.

PMB 11:08 am 08 Apr 17

chiflean said :

.The goverment also ensured that they all moved in without any window coverings – again, I expect that the residents all have plenty of money sitting around to spend on window coverings for the whole unit.

I know someone moved before under the circumstance of giving up a 3 bedroom govie house in exchange for a 2 bedroom unit, and they were given an allowance from the government for window fittings. Thing is it wasn’t restricted to window fittings, they could spend the allowance however they saw fit in buying whatever they needed for their new home.

Seeing as residents currently being moved under this program don’t have a choice, you would think the government would compensate them in a similar fashion, but my guess is that if the government advertised that in the current climate another bunch of critics would rise up and start hammering them about it so maybe they’ve chosen to keep it quiet.

It’s a great point though.. Yes public housing basically is a rental unit and seemingly supplied with no curtains. As you pointed about private rental, I know I’ve personally never rented a place that I’ve had to put up the window fittings. Even when I sold my old house I sold it with fittings. New owner didn’t have to keep them but ripping them out really seemed as pointless to me as ripping up the carpet.

chiflean 9:08 am 08 Apr 17

Hilarious that you consider the new developments to be high quality. Have you actually seen the developments of 25 units in Coombs (salt and peppered within a few steps of the next block of 25 units)?

In addition to the heinous chain wire fence the ugly car ports clearly mark them as ‘different’. They are also poorly orientated and have an incredibly inefficient electric panel wall heater for heating (no aircon unless it is very well hidden). I assume the residents will need to spend their minimal incomes paying electricity bills.

The goverment also ensured that they all moved in without any window coverings – again, I expect that the residents all have plenty of money sitting around to spend on window coverings for the whole unit. Many have gone for sheets but it seems so odd to me that what is essentially a rental for people on low incomes does not come with something that would be standard in any private rental. I’m not sure why this is acceptable – can you explain Chris?

JC 4:04 pm 07 Apr 17

wildturkeycanoe said :

Garfield said :

He also failed to mention that the definition of community use land was changed relatively recently, last year I think, to allow public housing when in the past it was for community facilities, not residential use. It sounds like it was pushed through under the radar as I certainly don’t remember the opposition or media picking up on it at the time. .

I just did some research and found the following.
The area in Holder which is planned to have public housing apartment style development is zoned “Community Facility Zone”. Hence, you’d think it supposed to be for the whole community, not for a developer to build public housing which will be only used by tenants of the government.
As for the rules being changed recently, I can’t find any new documents with changes to the development criteria. In all the documentation I can find including one called NI2008-27 Zone Objectives dated 19th August 2016, CFZ land is only allowed to have Supportive Housing, which “is restricted by the lease to persons with special housing needs for reasons of age or disability.”
It also clearly states that multi-unit housing is prohibited. So, I hope the new housing will be used only by people in the above categories, or the government should expect some serious backlash from the local residents. [It isn’t like they aren’t already getting that anyway].

So the government’s own rules concerning development of these spaces, prohibits them from building these public housing units/apartments. If any changes to these rules have been made, they are not currently easy to find on the internet for the public to see.

CFZ says single dwelling development is prohibited. See link below page 3.

http://www.legislation.act.gov.au/ni/2008-27/copy/96341/pdf/2008-27.pdf

And supportive housing as a slightly different meaning to what you are suggesting:

http://www.legislation.act.gov.au/ni/2008-27/copy/110382/pdf/2008-27.pdf

JC 3:56 pm 07 Apr 17

Maya123 said :

Actually, looking at those houses, they would look better without fences. Plant ground covers for those gardens where the tenants don’t want to garden, and leave those tenants who want to garden to plant what suits them.

My mums place looks similar and doesn’t have the fence. And yes they planted ground covers and the odd tree. It does look good.

Leo61 1:54 pm 07 Apr 17

Chris,

I fully support the need for public housing. I live in Wright and agree there is scope for public housing in the suburb but NOT on our Community use block. There are 2 other huge parcels of land next to our Community block. Please use one of these instead. In fact, they would be better suited as they are closer to the Coombs shops (when they are completed).

TinyTank 9:20 am 07 Apr 17

Chris Steel MLA said :

TinyTank said :

Chris Steel MLA said :

Maya123 said :

If that an actual photograph of new ACT public housing? Those fences look like they are locking the tenants in. The only fence worse, would be a high brick fence. At least the wire fences let in light.

That is a photo from Chisholm I believe when they were first built. There are plantings which are meant to obscure the fencing. There are a range of designs for new housing though and the new housing in coombs is quite different.

Quite different, how? I live in Coombs and walk past the new housing developments each day. Unfortunately the black chain fence screams ‘social housing’ and doesn’t offer the tenants any privacy in their yard or lounge room. Most of the tenants have put up bamboo screens or shade sails on the fence (understandably).

This is good feedback for the Taskforce. They want to hear people’s thoughts on the form of the development including the design of the housing.

Chris, you seem to be missing the point everyone is trying to make. Feedback is not taken on board and consultation has no effect on the plans that the government has outlined.

In this case, feedback was provided by multiple Coombs residents (and some of those that live right across the road looking straight into the backyards and lounge rooms of the tenants) when the development was in the very early construction phase. The concern was for the privacy and health and safety of the housing tenants and a suggestion was put forward to copy the horizontal slatted design in the neighbouring townhouses (which look lovely). But of course, this wasn’t actioned and the development now stands out like a sore thumb.

If the consultation and feedback process was more transparent, perhaps residents wouldn’t be so frustrated by these projects. Tell us what feedback is in and out of scope. I.e.: residents, if you suggest changes to the look and design we are unable to implement for x/y/z reasons. Also, if you suggest changes that result in a cost increase of >5% of the total project then we are unable to consider it for budget reasons.

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