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Public Housing Debates – sound and fury signifying something

By Rebecca Vassarotti - 13 April 2017 18

New housing development aerial shot area in Canberra, Australia

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a lot of talk about a number of proposed public housing developments in Canberra’s southern suburbs. These proposals are part of the Government’s public housing renewal program, which has included the relocation of public housing tenants from ageing public housing developments along Northbourne Avenue.

I am a passionate advocate for public housing and believe we need to protect the policy of ‘salt and peppering’ of public housing across Canberra. In addition to avoiding ghettos, when we live in diverse neighbourhoods we have more opportunities to connect with others with different experiences, more able to develop our understanding of alternative perspectives and much more likely to create cohesive communities. I believe we need to all say ‘yes, in my backyard’, and recognise that our neighbours have something to contribute, no matter their bank balance or housing tenure.

Given all of this, it would be easy to harshly judge community members who are voicing concerns around the proposed developments and cast them as NIMBYs. However, an honest assessment of what is happening reveals that this is about communities who are frustrated and angry because they feel that they have not been consulted and involved in decisions that will impact on their lives.

Communities should be able to raise questions around the loss of community facility land, particularly in communities where community assets and facilities have been run down and neglected, without being made to feel bigoted and selfish.

Communities should be able to question why the Government has chosen not to locate public housing within the Northbourne Avenue precinct without being framed as opponents to all public housing development. It’s a reasonable question to ask why ‘salt and peppering’ is not being implemented in cases like the Northbourne Avenue corridor purely because of an economic imperative while communities are being asked to embrace this policy.

Communities should be able to expect those who are implementing decisions to front up to community organised forums to explain the proposals and engage with community views. It would be even better if political decision makers turned up in addition to public servants who often have limited ability to respond to community concerns.

Communities must be able to expect a decent level of consultation and participation in community and neighbourhood planning. As someone who attended many community meetings and discussions in the lead up to the Territory election, if there is one message that was sent loud and clear it was that the community needs to be more involved in neighbourhood planning – early and meaningfully.

We need to recognise that this isn’t a debate around public housing. It’s about community expressing the view that government must improve the way it works with the community, and draw on the expertise and experience that comes from living in neighbourhoods prior to making decisions.

What is clear is that the old ways of making and communicating these decisions just aren’t working – they are divisive and unhelpful. There are new deliberative democracy approaches including citizen juries and community panels which could enable citizens participation in much more meaningful ways. When we involve the community, we generally get better decisions and upfront engagement saves time and money in the long run. There is a great chance to find out more about these approaches soon, with the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis hosting a free lecture on citizen juries on 4 May 2017

There is a great chance to find out more about deliberative decision-making processes soon, with the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis hosting a free lecture on citizen juries on 4 May 2017. More information can be found at: http://www.governanceinstitute.edu.au/events/canberra-conversation-lecture-series/457/citizens-juries-the-answer-to-improving-community-engagement-in-the-act

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18 Responses to
Public Housing Debates – sound and fury signifying something
PMB 7:35 am 17 Apr 17

@wildturkeycanoe

The author wrote this whole story to help and ensure people like yourself were seen to have genuine concerns, not be treated as bigoted and selfish. So when you state “…having the problems of Northbourne avenue brought out into the suburbs.” you lose any sympathy I had for your position. You’ve just joined a chorus that treats your fellow voting citizens as ‘problems’ because of where they live. I’ve responded to you above to point out that our system is what it is and we should deal with it on that level. Instead, you just shift positions and move the debate somewhere else. Good luck.

Masquara 10:00 pm 16 Apr 17

Shane Rattenbury promised to put low-income earners into his negatively geared investment flats – I wonder whether they are built yet and ready to be tenanted …

wildturkeycanoe 9:35 pm 16 Apr 17

retired_canberran said :

Just how many angry people is that? I don’t think it’s as many as the anti-public housing development groups want you to think.

It was certainly enough to have to relocate the first consultative meeting to larger premises due to over-filling the venue.

retired_canberran said :

I don’t think there should be consultation on the location. Nobody consulted me when they built a development down the road from me years back – and it hasn’t ‘destroyed’ the suburb or lowered housing prices in the least (just some of the excuses I’ve read). This is about losing green space and social fears about what public housing means – let’s be honest.

Honestly, yes it is about losing green spaces and having the problems of Northbourne avenue brought out into the suburbs. There is obviously a stigma surrounding these kinds of developments, whether or not it is based on truth or fiction. But as has been said, this is not salt and peppering as is the policy of the housing renewal task force. They are not adhering to their own policies. They also are using the last available community zoned land in the suburb, which also is in contravention of their own guidelines. If a government department can do whatever it wants and cannot be held accountable to its own rules, the system of democracy and government we all vote for has completely failed. This housing issue seems to be yet another symptom of a systemic problem with the A.C.T. government.

retired_canberran said :

Canberra has a rapidly growing population and the city needs to grow with it. If you want the bush lifestyle, you’re just going to have to make a choice. Or like PMB said, get involved in Canberra’s planning consistently. Not just when a decision doesn’t suit you.

People move to Canberra because of the “country town” appeal, that is what makes it desirable. When you use up every last piece of park land and build apartments on it, of course there will be anger from the community.
As for getting involved with planning, exactly how? Master Plans are developed by the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate. They develop a plan, consult with the community, do a heap of other things like rezoning land etc, before releasing a final plan to the public. What doesn’t seem to happen though, is the government listening to the public during consultation. If you review some of the “consultative” surveys, you will see the questions asked are biased in such a way that whatever the answer given, the statistics will seem to favor what the government proposes.
Sure some developments have been stopped due to vocal opposition, but eventually another proposal is presented, then another and another, until people are exhausted and funds for legal intervention run out. You cannot beat the government when they hold all the aces.
Eventually, developers will get their way because it is financially a windfall for the budget, through land sale, taxes, rates and so on. Leaving it as an open space for the community only costs money in maintenance and reduces the available land for housing, so you can see why they are quickly disappearing. Nimbys and concerned citizens really do not have a voice in these matters, as much as they may make headlines in the media. Money speaks much louder.

chewy14 5:28 pm 16 Apr 17

wildturkeycanoe said :

PMB said :

Democracy isn’t speaking up when you don’t like something, it’s speaking up all the time. A community has the right to be upset over whatever they like, but their chance to speak up is lost when they vote for a party who’s policies that haven’t really looked into. These developments started happening before the last election, the Weston Creek community should have known this and raised any concerns with their candidates back then instead of just reacting now that it has happened to them.

Well looking at how many people are angry at there being a lack of consultation prior to now, when did they find out about this proposal? Certainly not before the last election. To add to that, they would not have had concerns for the block being used for public housing as at the time it was not an issue, being zoned as community land, not to be used for general public housing. Since the election the D.A. rules have apparently changed [though nobody seems to be able to confirm this in documentation] to allow the development to go ahead. Had the residents known what was in store they certainly would have raised their voices and perhaps changed their voting preference.
As it was, more people voted for Liberal than Labor in the Murrumbidgee electorate, so maybe they were sending a message with their ballot papers.

PMB said :

But honestly if the public expects consultation on every decision that impacts on others lives you’d have a government who’s hands are tied for their entire term. As a community member I don’t want to have to show up and vote every time someone in the my suburb isn’t happy about something. To me the consultation is studying the parties policies, questioning your local member on them, looking deeper into what you vote for instead of just rocking up to the election booth and repeating whatever you did last time. The more blindly people continue to vote, the more a government doesn’t have to make solid commitments on touchy subjects, and the more situations like this will happen.

Again I quesdtion your assumption that people were aware of where these public housing relocations were taking place and how.
From CT Mar 6th, 2016 “”Mr Collett said releasing suburb details “would enable identification of potential public housing sites”.
“This is not in the best interests of integrating future tenants into their new communities,” he said.”
David Collett is the head of the Housing Renewal Taskforce and by this comment I think he meant to keep secret the locations of the new public housing locations so as to not negatively influence the result of the upcoming election in October.
The reveal of these new developments was not out until March of this year, so you can not say that there was consultation. There wasn’t, and continues to be none while they refuse to talk to concerned residents.
That statement about integration into the community has totally lost its meaning, as now everybody is indeed aware of the location of these new tenants. How easy will it be for them to become a part of the community whilst the stigma of this planning catastrophe hangs in the air?

To end this rant, I would just like to say that the more you read about how the Housing Renewal Taskforce has moved forward with these projects, the more they [A.C.T. Labor] are shown to be doing secretive, behind closed door dealings with developers and skirting the edges of the Territory’s planning laws, dangerously close to breaking rules they themselves have developed. Not only that, but now the affected communities are aware of these shenanigans, Labor has pretended to have done the right thing by bragging of “consultation” which never happened, then gone into hiding after seeing how much anger there is from concerned citizens.
PMB, you spoke of democracy [control of an organization or group by the majority of its members.] at the beginning of your comment. There appears to be nothing democratic about the Labor government’s handling of this issue. When they can do whatever they like and cannot be persuaded to change or even made to listen to the voices of the electorate through public forums, “consultation” processes and other avenues, it seems we are living in the clutches of a dictatorship [ruled by one person or political entity, and exercised through various mechanisms to ensure that the entity’s power remains strong].

Sorry, but community facility land does allow public housing under the territory plan, so complaints on this ground are completely misguided.

And if you didn’t know this was a possibility (or a reality) before the last election, you haven’t been paying attention. They’ve been looking at sites for the last couple of years.

PMB 2:55 pm 16 Apr 17

@wildturkeycanoe

Governments don’t listen to angry people when they’ve a few years left in their term, particularly if it’s only on a single issue and they’re not a hotbed of armed revolutionaries.

These announcements including Weston Creek and Molonglo go back to 2015. Just because individual blocks and particular suburbs were not announced, doesn’t mean the government hadn’t been touting this as the solution they’re implementing to the relocation of the Northbourne precinct tenants.

There’s over 100 suburbs in Canberra to choose from, you really think our government is that organised to announce years in advance exactly which blocks of land were to be used? We’re not exactly operating on German or Japanese efficiency here.

But think about consultation logic in another situation. Every single person who lives in Gunghalin or along Northbourne Avenue who is impacted by the light rail should have been consulted again after the election, before construction started, and given another chance to consult. They can’t just be deemed beneficiaries with no rights if we expect the government to be 100% genuine in a consultation process.

And that’s my whole point, this argument for community consultation in Canberra isn’t realistic, it’s a government theory of placation that is sold to the public to think they have skin in the game. I’m sure governments love it, giggling when they ask ‘what’s stopping us on this project?’ and the answer is ‘public consultation’.

There’s no point just blaming Labor and thinking they’re doing something underhanded, if you really think they’re corrupt prove it otherwise you just sound like a disgruntled Liberal voter. And if it’s a green space issue pressure the Greens.

I do agree though that if the Liberals got in (as Murrumbidgee voted) we wouldn’t be having this debate. Their policy would’ve just taken back to an older debate about the ageing buildings along Northbourne. That’s them being truly happy to stay in the 1950s when these buildings were constructed.

Bottom line is if people object to our system, make the change happen, the change isn’t going to come from within the existing political parties or systems. If you just strike out at it when it suits, you’re as ineffectual as single issue parties in elections (or someone objecting in comments sections).

Change takes commitment, if people really want a voice they need to stay the course, i.e. Holder and Chapman accepting it now, but staying in the fight for every other suburb or community they feel is not being heard.

That’s the problem, I don’t see the complaining Nicholls community from a few years back jumping in with solidarity to support the Weston Creek and other communities now. It would totally change the landscape for how the government placed these developments if that sort of groundswell actually happened. Until that happens, nothing will change, governments will keep feeding us grass and we’ll continue eating it.

retired_canberran 10:22 am 16 Apr 17

Just how many angry people is that? I don’t think it’s as many as the anti-public housing development groups want you to think.

I don’t think there should be consultation on the location. Nobody consulted me when they built a development down the road from me years back – and it hasn’t ‘destroyed’ the suburb or lowered housing prices in the least (just some of the excuses I’ve read). This is about losing green space and social fears about what public housing means – let’s be honest.

Canberra has a rapidly growing population and the city needs to grow with it. If you want the bush lifestyle, you’re just going to have to make a choice. Or like PMB said, get involved in Canberra’s planning consistently. Not just when a decision doesn’t suit you.

wildturkeycanoe 10:03 pm 15 Apr 17

PMB said :

Democracy isn’t speaking up when you don’t like something, it’s speaking up all the time. A community has the right to be upset over whatever they like, but their chance to speak up is lost when they vote for a party who’s policies that haven’t really looked into. These developments started happening before the last election, the Weston Creek community should have known this and raised any concerns with their candidates back then instead of just reacting now that it has happened to them.

Well looking at how many people are angry at there being a lack of consultation prior to now, when did they find out about this proposal? Certainly not before the last election. To add to that, they would not have had concerns for the block being used for public housing as at the time it was not an issue, being zoned as community land, not to be used for general public housing. Since the election the D.A. rules have apparently changed [though nobody seems to be able to confirm this in documentation] to allow the development to go ahead. Had the residents known what was in store they certainly would have raised their voices and perhaps changed their voting preference.
As it was, more people voted for Liberal than Labor in the Murrumbidgee electorate, so maybe they were sending a message with their ballot papers.

PMB said :

But honestly if the public expects consultation on every decision that impacts on others lives you’d have a government who’s hands are tied for their entire term. As a community member I don’t want to have to show up and vote every time someone in the my suburb isn’t happy about something. To me the consultation is studying the parties policies, questioning your local member on them, looking deeper into what you vote for instead of just rocking up to the election booth and repeating whatever you did last time. The more blindly people continue to vote, the more a government doesn’t have to make solid commitments on touchy subjects, and the more situations like this will happen.

Again I quesdtion your assumption that people were aware of where these public housing relocations were taking place and how.
From CT Mar 6th, 2016 “”Mr Collett said releasing suburb details “would enable identification of potential public housing sites”.
“This is not in the best interests of integrating future tenants into their new communities,” he said.”
David Collett is the head of the Housing Renewal Taskforce and by this comment I think he meant to keep secret the locations of the new public housing locations so as to not negatively influence the result of the upcoming election in October.
The reveal of these new developments was not out until March of this year, so you can not say that there was consultation. There wasn’t, and continues to be none while they refuse to talk to concerned residents.
That statement about integration into the community has totally lost its meaning, as now everybody is indeed aware of the location of these new tenants. How easy will it be for them to become a part of the community whilst the stigma of this planning catastrophe hangs in the air?

To end this rant, I would just like to say that the more you read about how the Housing Renewal Taskforce has moved forward with these projects, the more they [A.C.T. Labor] are shown to be doing secretive, behind closed door dealings with developers and skirting the edges of the Territory’s planning laws, dangerously close to breaking rules they themselves have developed. Not only that, but now the affected communities are aware of these shenanigans, Labor has pretended to have done the right thing by bragging of “consultation” which never happened, then gone into hiding after seeing how much anger there is from concerned citizens.
PMB, you spoke of democracy [control of an organization or group by the majority of its members.] at the beginning of your comment. There appears to be nothing democratic about the Labor government’s handling of this issue. When they can do whatever they like and cannot be persuaded to change or even made to listen to the voices of the electorate through public forums, “consultation” processes and other avenues, it seems we are living in the clutches of a dictatorship [ruled by one person or political entity, and exercised through various mechanisms to ensure that the entity’s power remains strong].

retired_canberran 10:53 am 15 Apr 17

That’s a really well articulated point PMB.

I wonder how many people complaining about this applauded the demolition of Northbourne when it was first announced. “Hooray, what an eyesore they are” and now when they find out that they’re getting some in their neck of the woods, it’s a different story! “Whoa whoa whoa, let’s hold on a minute. I mean, you told me that you were knocking them down, but you didn’t tell me that meant that you had to find all the tenants new places to live in! Let’s slow down a bit… let’s consult.”

I’ve lived in Canberra for 20 years (15 in Weston Creek) and have never been consulted on where the government will house someone who needs assistance – and why should I?! I voted for a government knowing their public housing policies and their plans (which have been discussed for years).

The first proposal I heard about was the one for Holder by an angry man who wanted my signature to stop it. No thanks. Shame on him trying to make it about the government being ‘sneaky’ and trying to slip it past them. Shame on him making it about the big bad government not telling him about wanting to provide decent housing for those who need it. Shame on him making it about anything other than him losing a bit of green parkland and spoiling his amenity.

I just hope the government isn’t swayed by the outrage of a loud and angry few.

PMB 4:43 pm 14 Apr 17

Rebecca Vassarotti said :

chewy14 said :

All this talk about consultation and showing up to meetings actually assumes that the community groups themselves are representative of the communities they claim to represent which is a massive stretch at best.

How exactly can the government engage with the community as a whole and gauge what they think?

I agree with you that community groups are often not fully representative of the whole community. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have a contribution to make. The community councils for instance are made up of people who care about their neighbourhoods and have the time to engage with what is happening in their local area. In my role on the board of a community housing provider I have had great experiences when engaging with one of these groups. Their input has vastly improved the design of a proposed development because they understood the way the suburb worked. Why wouldn’t Govs engage with people who are interested and connected, and who they provide some financial support to undertake a representative role? It may not be the totality of the engagement and as I noted there are new models which could make engagement much more meaningful.

Community councils are not a political entity in Canberra that have a say in government regardless of whether they’re fully representative or not. If community councils want in on the process they should get involved at a consistent level and get representation in government so they’re commitment is 100% all the time, not just perked up to 100% when an issue like this arises.

If this doesn’t happen you can’t expect a sitting government to take notice of minority, non-elected councils when the only time they tend to hear from them is when they’re doing something they don’t like. Consultation on these developments was offered, but not for the community to vote on whether or not the government was allowed to build them. Why would a government cripple it’s governing ability? And what can this government do if the public doesn’t like that, with the apathy of the Canberra voting public they know they don’t have to do anything.

Democracy isn’t speaking up when you don’t like something, it’s speaking up all the time. A community has the right to be upset over whatever they like, but their chance to speak up is lost when they vote for a party who’s policies that haven’t really looked into. These developments started happening before the last election, the Weston Creek community should have known this and raised any concerns with their candidates back then instead of just reacting now that it has happened to them.

But honestly if the public expects consultation on every decision that impacts on others lives you’d have a government who’s hands are tied for their entire term. As a community member I don’t want to have to show up and vote every time someone in the my suburb isn’t happy about something. To me the consultation is studying the parties policies, questioning your local member on them, looking deeper into what you vote for instead of just rocking up to the election booth and repeating whatever you did last time. The more blindly people continue to vote, the more a government doesn’t have to make solid commitments on touchy subjects, and the more situations like this will happen.

JC 12:37 pm 14 Apr 17

chewy14 said :

PMB said :

chewy14 said :

How exactly can the government engage with the community as a whole and gauge what they think?

Elections.

Novel idea.

I also hear most development applications go out to the public for comment….

I often wonder how and in what form many of those that complain about lack of consultation expect consultation to take place.

It seems even a private company making an unsolicited approach to government can lead to crus of no consultation from government.

So really curious how should the government be engaging in “consultation”?

Rebecca Vassarotti 9:28 am 14 Apr 17

chewy14 said :

All this talk about consultation and showing up to meetings actually assumes that the community groups themselves are representative of the communities they claim to represent which is a massive stretch at best.

How exactly can the government engage with the community as a whole and gauge what they think?

I agree with you that community groups are often not fully representative of the whole community. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have a contribution to make. The community councils for instance are made up of people who care about their neighbourhoods and have the time to engage with what is happening in their local area. In my role on the board of a community housing provider I have had great experiences when engaging with one of these groups. Their input has vastly improved the design of a proposed development because they understood the way the suburb worked. Why wouldn’t Govs engage with people who are interested and connected, and who they provide some financial support to undertake a representative role? It may not be the totality of the engagement and as I noted there are new models which could make engagement much more meaningful.

chewy14 6:30 pm 13 Apr 17

PMB said :

chewy14 said :

How exactly can the government engage with the community as a whole and gauge what they think?

Elections.

Novel idea.

I also hear most development applications go out to the public for comment….

PMB 6:01 pm 13 Apr 17

chewy14 said :

How exactly can the government engage with the community as a whole and gauge what they think?

Elections.

chewy14 2:54 pm 13 Apr 17

All this talk about consultation and showing up to meetings actually assumes that the community groups themselves are representative of the communities they claim to represent which is a massive stretch at best.

How exactly can the government engage with the community as a whole and gauge what they think?

danholliday 1:20 pm 13 Apr 17

I have to agree with what Rebecca says. Canvassing public opinion is more and more necessary with the growing availability of electronic news and opinion.
True that no decision is going to please everyone but government needs to understand the importance of good public communication.
There is still an attitude of ‘do it first and then it will be too late to change it.’ which is simply not good enough.
‘Salt and peppering’ is the better solution and one that should be actively pursued. The ‘ghetto effect’ of concentrated public housing has been seen before and is a real problem. I imagine that it takes a lot more administration to manage than building in a new area on the outskirts where economies of scale make the whole process much cheaper.
It is a sad fact that the less fortunate are being uprooted and moved on because the pressure of increased land value creates an economic imperative. Surely some of that profit can be used to create a better, lasting solution that benefits the community.
The attitude of our elected representatives is not good enough!
As Kerry Packer once said, the job of government is to make peoples’ lives better. A public housing suburb is only a cheaper alternative, not a better one. The public is tired of cheap solutions that create problems to be dealt with by another administration.
This is not good representation. Do it right the first time and you won’t have to spend a lot more fixing it later.

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