17 June 2022

No appeals for public housing tenants deemed OK to relocate

| Ian Bushnell
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Yvette Berry with a shovel

Housing and Suburban Development Minister Yvette Berry turns the first sod on a public housing project in Dickson. Photo: Supplied.

Public housing tenants refusing to be relocated as part of Housing ACT’s renewal program face sudden death hearings to decide whether they can be granted an exemption.

Despite Housing and Suburban Development Minister Yvette Berry portraying the hearings as informal and ongoing, it will be the end of the road for tenants if the government-appointed Tenant Relocation Exemption Panel rejects their applications.

The ACT Government fact sheet produced for tenants states that the panel, made up of representatives from community service organisations and Housing ACT, will consider exemptions. Applicants will be notified of an outcome in writing within 14 business days.

The decision will be final unless new information can be provided.

“If your application for exemption is not granted, you will be required to relocate under the Growing and Renewing Public Housing program. Your Tenant Relocation Officer will continue to work with you and your supports to find a suitable relocation property,” it says.

“The decision made by the panel is not appealable. An application for exemption will only be reconsidered if new information that has not previously been considered is received.”

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The fact sheet comes with an exemption application form and a letter telling tenants that they need to apply to Housing ACT to avoid having to move.

The ACT Council of Social Services criticised the process and the limited 48 hours’ notice given to tenants that the hearings would start this week, only to have Ms Berry accuse ACTCOSS of causing unnecessary distress to tenants.

“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,” Ms Berry told Region.

But ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said that what the government said was happening appears to be quite different from the reality for tenants.

“Minister Berry has presented these meetings as informal and ongoing. Even if they were, 48 hours is insufficient to organise representation and support,” she said.

“The fact sheet that tenants have received shows that the hearing involves a formal panel where a decision is made as to whether these tenants can stay or go. It clearly states that the decision cannot be appealed.”

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Dr Campbell said that some tenants appearing before the panel had either not received the fact sheet, an exemption application form and a letter or only received them late on Wednesday.

She said all ACTCOSS wanted was a fair process for tenants, some of whom had been in the same property for decades.

Hearings began on Thursday (16 June).

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

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. All up, 700 properties are involved so far.

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According to the fact sheet, reasons for exemption could be health, age, safety and cultural appropriateness, and proximity to social supports and services.

But the panel will also look at whether another property could better suit a tenant’s needs, if the current property is underutilised, and the overall impact to the renewal program and Housing ACT’s ability to house those most in need.

Housing ACT wants to move tenants from selected properties so these can either be sold to pay for new projects or redevelop the sites, usually with multiple dwellings.

It announced the long-expected relocation program earlier in the year but came under fire for the way it went about telling tenants and a lack of consultation with the community sector.

The renewal program has a target of 1400 new dwellings by 2024-25.

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ACT Housing have bent over backwards to accommodate one of the loudest complainants occupying a three-beddy- relocation offered not to a flat but to a gorgeous detached two-beddy in the inner north’s best complex and even the same suburb where the person lives and where housing is at a premium. Instead of counting her blessings at staying in-suburb said tenant is refusing to move and make way for a family of four. Get real , ACTCOSS!

People challenging their rights to occupy a free house?!

For the rest of us we pay full rent, and if our land lord says they want us out we pack up and go, no fuss. It’s not great but that’s the rules.

You want greater rights then go buy your own place.

Telling tenants for many years that their public house was for life and now forcing them to move because the Government has mismanaged it’s housing stock and land releases/housing in general, is wrong! How many of the 300+ affected tenants have passed up other options over the years, including purchasing their property, because they were led to believe they had secure tenancy anyway? The Government is happy to waste millions on a pointless light rail, why can’t it funnel that money into new Government housing so these long term tenants (especially if they are aged) are able to remain in their homes and communities.

Hi MIssChief, just to clear up a couple of points about your post which are incorrect. You may just have been misinformed about how public housing works but they are not told that “their public house was for life”. If you can find this documented somewhere by all means bring it forward but I think you’ll find that they were never told that because it simply isn’t true. Public housing stock is supplied to help people out when they can’t manage to buy or rent privately because of their circumstances. Secondly, if they passed up the opportunity to purchase the property at some time when the offer was there and they could do this but they declined to do so because “they were led to believe they had secure tenancy anyway” then that is called ‘gaming the system’ and is preventing other people who need public housing from getting it. Thirdly the government is not mismanaging the housing stock; there have always been changes to housing stock as needs are met and circumstances change. Fourthly, spending on transport (light rail or roads and other transport infrastructure) has nothing to do with it so perhaps better to apply facts to your argument.

They have not been told their public housing is for life, if they’ve got legal assurance like that, the government wouldn’t be able to move them. Surely it would be easy to present the documentation of this.

But they don’t have any such thing, do they.

Wow you seem to be in unique possession of decades of information not available from any ACT Government department. Magical! Where is your written proof that they weren’t told they could stay in their homes as long as needed? Or proof that the Govenment has managed housing and other spending responsibly? You are already on the wrong side of history.

You’ve made a claim, it’s up to you to produce some evidence, not for others to prove a negative.

If you think they were told they could stay in a specific public housing apartment or house forever, surely you don’t just expect people to take it on hearsay?

@MissChief Surely it’s up to the people who have been “ they could stay in their homes as long as needed” to produce the evidence? There’s a big difference in purporting to have been told and having evidence to support that claim.

Chewy I cannot prove it but my old mother was on a lease (from 1978) that essentially allowed for her to live in her allocated house for ever more. My understanding is everyone who had a lease issued before the mid 90’s are in the same boat. New leases since don’t have that same assurance.

In my mums case she voluntarily agreed to move into new purpose built aged persons rental about 12 years ago. But that was her choice, she would have been under no obligation to move if she didn’t want to.

JC, but you or your mum would have been able to prove it, at the time, had you needed to do so. Which is the point I just made to MissChief – rather than saying they have been told something, produce the written evidence and it will hold.

If these things exist, why is there no evidence showing it to be the case then? I’d love to see them. Why hasn’t ACTCOSS or the media presented them?

I would be extremely surprised if those leases didn’t also have specific clauses allowing the government to move people under certain circumstances.

They may have provided greater certainty around tenure but I have serious doubts around the claims being made around guaranteed tenure, regardless of circumstances, in a publically owned property.

ChrisinTurner5:32 pm 18 Jun 22

These people are being moved to suit developers.

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 property 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 slowly created this problem.

I don’t think it’s fair for singles and couples to live in public housing that should be used by families in need (so I disagree with ACTCOSS on that front), but the ACT government shouldn’t be giving people 48 hours to resolve the situation when they themselves have been kicking the public housing can down the road for over a decade.

BJ, this has been going on for months. The claims around 2 days are just complete bull, from people trying to pull at heartstrings to get what they want.

Chewy, You must have missed the Canberra Times article outlining a Public Housing Tennant who hadn’t ever received any written notification, they’d only been left a voicemail to attend a panel session and that the journalist had separately seen a fact sheet that didn’t state that the panel sessions were informal and that the factsheet said the panel decision wasn’t appealable.

Either the Minister is lying about what her staff have done, or ACTCOSS and the Canberra Times are lying.

P.S. I wouldn’t put too much faith in the ACT government staff following correct procedures.

Chewy, You must have missed the Canberra Times article outlining a Public Housing Tennant who hadn’t ever received any written notification, they’d only been left a voicemail to attend a panel session and that the journalist had separately seen a fact sheet that didn’t state that the panel sessions were informal and that the factsheet said the panel decision wasn’t appealable.

Either the Minister is lying about what her staff have done, or ACTCOSS and the Canberra Times are lying. That I can’t tell.

P.S. you can say it’s complete bull, but I wouldn’t put too much faith in the ACT government staff following all the correct procedures. There’s been too many audit findings that have shown lost documentation, lack of process and/or unsent letters.

No I read it and it’s clearly a case of individuals hearing what they want to hear and deliberately not reading the information they’ve been sent to then claim they haven’t been “informed and consulted”.

Groups like ACTCOSS have put forward a position that they don’t want these people moved, of course they look for any crumbs they can attempt to make emotional arguments about the “unfairness” of it all.

The government can and should only do so much in this space, these moves have been repeatedly flagged for a long time. It’s disingenuous for people to claim they didn’t know.

I think the fact that they’ve allowed any chance of exemptions at all is the mistake. It’s creates the impression that there are cracks in the government position when it should be extremely firm.

The urban renewal program of the ACT Government is a euphemism for obtaining more revenue from developers while at the same time lining the pockets of favoured developers…people must learn they are simply pawns in the game of economic development

They should all be grateful that they are being provided with taxpayer funded housing.

Whilst it’s not nice that some people have to move, why should they have more rights than people in private rentals?

The government has limited funds and properties and there are long waiting lines for housing. They need to use what they have in the most efficient manner possible.

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