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Public housing stigma continues

By John Hargreaves - 20 May 2015 66

house-stock-roof

I was sorely disappointed to read the front page of The Canberra Times yesterday morning in which the people of Gungahlin were objecting to the presence of salt and peppered public housing in their suburbs.

My concern stemmed from a series of experiences and I so wish that they rethink their objections and become a welcoming society for those who are not as well off as they obviously are. The NIMBY acronym surely fits here.

The Gungahlin residents are suggesting that all public housing tenants are dangerous, will have a “negative impact” on their family friendly neighbourhoods, bring about “potential slums” replacing open space used for recreation by local families.

The Gold Creek parents and citizens association representatives suggested that the placement of the homes could bring drug use and crime to the area.

These people are sorely misinformed about the actual nature of public housing tenants.

Public housing tenants number over 12,000. About 8,000 live in free-standing homes and the others live in a combination of high rise and townhouse developments.

Of these tenants, there are about 200 or so challenging tenants. The percentage is very low. There are more challenging individuals in the private housing sector than in the public housing sector.

Most public housing tenants are beautiful people who live their lives in our suburbs and disturb no-one, bring up their kids like the rest of us, shopping in our shopping centres and sending their kids to our schools, just like the rest of us.

They take care of their homes – not houses – with pride and care. They often buy them when they can afford to do so.

In my experience criminality is not restricted to the public housing tenancies, but spread all over Canberra.

The policy of salt and peppering is to give tenants the opportunity to be part of a vibrant community, to be part of a success story and to be just as ordinary as the rest of us.

This policy is aimed at removing the “ghettos” that people imagine are the flats in Belconnen, the flats in Civic, the flats in Red Hill. It is fact that when the flats in Kingston were removed and the tenants moved to the suburbs in the salt and pepper policy, all of them had a renewal of their lives.

As much as despair and hopelessness have an accompanying drug use and criminality, so does hope, acceptance, assistance and good example have their infectiousness.

I saw in that article an upper class attitude which made me cringe. I saw the inward looking snobbery which is not the Canberra I brought my family into.

The assumption that ACT Housing will build more concentrations of public housing is erroneous as well. Certainly, assisted accommodation for those with a disability is a possibility but salt and pepper means that the old way of building streets and streets of houses is long gone.

My attitude comes from two experiences. The first is a former public housing tenant. I lived in a public housing home until I was able to buy it from the government. I lived in a street full of public houses and sent my kids to a public school in Holt. Our street was surrounded by private dwellings and there was never any stigma attached to my tenancy as there seems to be in the Gungahlin people’s attitudes today.

If it was not for that opportunity, I would have been sentenced to struggle for a whole lot longer than I was. If it was not for that opportunity, I could never have been able to get that leg up which we all hope for.

My other experience was as Minister for Housing for about five years. In that time I saw changes in not only the policy but also the demographic of the public housing tenancies. The more we salt and peppered into the suburbs, the less we had challenging tenants to deal with. The more we destroyed to concentrations of challenging tenancies which fed off each other and created dwellings of despair, the more we gave a new life and hope to those in our community who needed our help the most.

I met hundreds of tenants in my tenure as Minister and I met many different types of tenants. For the absolute majority of these cases, I would be proud to have them living next door. Indeed when I rented in at least two suburbs, I had neighbours in private accommodation whose lifestyle was suss at best and illegal at worst.

The people of Gungahlin should realise that public housing tenants are real people with the same aspirations as they have, the same hopes for their kids that they have but they don’t have the same means to achieve those hopes as they do.

I was ashamed and appalled at the sentiments in the Times today. I had thought and hoped that the stigma of public housing was dying, but alas not so.

When will we realise that public housing is an expression by the community that we have an obligation to help where we can, to share in our beautiful city and not condemn people to a stigma which is undeserved and actually nasty.

Elitism and snobbery have no place in our society. Compassion and willingness to embrace are the attributes I want for my Canberra.

What’s Your opinion?


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66 Responses to
Public housing stigma continues
bryansworld 1:00 pm 20 May 15

1967 said :

Wow.
I’ve been working around the Gungahlin area since Ngunnawal was started and I kind of always assumed that most of it was public housing.

I think we are converging on a conclusion: Gungahlin is a disaster.

1967 12:50 pm 20 May 15

Wow.
I’ve been working around the Gungahlin area since Ngunnawal was started and I kind of always assumed that most of it was public housing.

devils_advocate 12:39 pm 20 May 15

I think you have all missed the point.
Nicholls is a hole. The residents *think* they live in a prestigious suburb because they paid a lot for their houses. This tendency to equate “prestige” with the price someone paid for something was reflected in the crimes article the other day, claiming that nicholls was the most prestigious suburb in Gungahlin because it had the most million dollar homes. How ridiculous.
These are cookie-cutter houses built on blocks of 500m or less, with little access to anything useful. You can’t even begin to compare them to the actual prestige addresses in Canberra.
Anyone whose socio-economic circumstances drive them to live in Nicholls would definitely be looked down upon by those in suburbs such as Griffith, O’Malley, Forrest or Turner.

The real question is, why would we want to condemn vulnerable public housing tenants to a life of living in the cultural, social and intellectual wasteland that Nicholls has proved itself to be?

justin heywood 12:15 pm 20 May 15

Certainly some intemperate comments to the media from affected residents – most of us love nothing more than a good self-righteous sneer when middle-class suburbia complains about anything.

But consider this aspect of the article

“…..residents will be moved from the Northbourne Avenue housing precinct, the Allawah, Bega and Currong flats in the city, and estates in Griffith, Woden and Red Hill…..as the government looks to decentralise properties and cash in on valuable inner-city land”.

I used to know someone in Bega Flats, and had the misfortune to visit him there several times. Thee would hardly be any group in society more dependent on government services that the residents of these flats.

To shift them out to far-flung suburbs, lacking in services, lacking in transport options and with even lower prospects for the types of employment these people often participate in, is cruel.

To do this in order to make a few bucks shows where the government’s true priorities lie.

bd84 12:13 pm 20 May 15

I hate to tell the residents of Nicholls, their suburb already has public housing properties, these will not be the first. I believe only one Canberra has none, and you will need to be a diplomat or very rich to live there.

A multi-unit development for public housing does go against the no high-concentration of dwellings policy, but as long as the development is only for elderly or disabled residents it shouldn’t be a problem. Housing should ensure that the requirements for residency of these dwellings are permanent and do not change in the future. Even the small developments can end up as ghettos if it becomes part of the general stock, as seen as in other developments across the city.

bryansworld 12:05 pm 20 May 15

Alexandra Craig said :

I would actually be so embarrassed if I was one of the people quoted in that Canberra Times story. How humiliating knowing that work colleagues, friends, people you mix with in social circles, people at the local shops etc now know that you’re trying to block some members of our community from living in your suburb.

It’s so elitist it actually makes me sick.

To paint all people that live or have previously lived in housing commission as drug addicts, paedophiles, and mentally disabled is so misguided and wrong. And not all people with mental disabilities and not all people with drug addictions are dangerous. It’s so insulting that this kind of garbage is being peddled.

Also, there is housing commission all over Canberra. There is probably already housing commission in Nicholls (in the form of houses, not apartments) and these horrible people in the article don’t even know about it.

The refreshing thing about this is that once something is on the internet, it’s on the internet forever. Maybe one day these people might have a google search done on them and miss out on opportunities they wouldn’t have missed out on if they kept their snobby, misguided, and offensive comments to themselves.

Don’t worry, use the force of the attacker against them. There is a huge potential win here, just think:

Enclaves of McMansions and giant luxury monster trucks on the outskirts of Canberra. Fully of elitist, snobby people all happy in their own la-la land. Sweet – for the rest of us.

Alexandra Craig 11:51 am 20 May 15

I would actually be so embarrassed if I was one of the people quoted in that Canberra Times story. How humiliating knowing that work colleagues, friends, people you mix with in social circles, people at the local shops etc now know that you’re trying to block some members of our community from living in your suburb.

It’s so elitist it actually makes me sick.

To paint all people that live or have previously lived in housing commission as drug addicts, paedophiles, and mentally disabled is so misguided and wrong. And not all people with mental disabilities and not all people with drug addictions are dangerous. It’s so insulting that this kind of garbage is being peddled.

Also, there is housing commission all over Canberra. There is probably already housing commission in Nicholls (in the form of houses, not apartments) and these horrible people in the article don’t even know about it.

The refreshing thing about this is that once something is on the internet, it’s on the internet forever. Maybe one day these people might have a google search done on them and miss out on opportunities they wouldn’t have missed out on if they kept their snobby, misguided, and offensive comments to themselves.

dungfungus 11:15 am 20 May 15

Xtra said :

I too read the Canberra Times article concerning public housing planned for Nicholls and local resident’s reaction. How ignorant and precious are those who oppose the planned public housing.

To re-cap, the ACT Government is planning on putting 14 supportive homes on a community facility zoned block on Kelleway Ave. So to be clear this is a parcel of land which permits such a use. These homes will be used to house aged public housing tenants.

The suggestion by resident’s that public housing tenants are by nature paedophiles and drug users is absurd and totally ignorant.

To the comments which suggest that the public housing tenants do not use services such as hairdressers, shame on you!

The article says more about those who made the comments and to those of you who call themselves Christians- you really need to assess what Christianity is all about.

Oh and by the way- there is public housing in Nicholls – you just don’t know where. So, to the lady who won’t let her son play outside if public housing comes to Nicholls, I guess you’ll be moving or keeping him inside a lot! As John pointed out public housing also includes single residential homes.

Prestige suburbs like Red Hill and Griffith have not suffered a decline in value because of the presence of public housing- so any argument which suggests house prices will fall is also lame.

“Prestige suburbs like Red Hill and Griffith have not suffered a decline in value because of the presence of public housing- so any argument which suggests house prices will fall is also lame.”

That is true – it’s one of those quirky things about Canberra
Unfortunately, people like me who once lived there found out too late that crime is a big issue and it was all emanating from the public housing ghettos in the suburbs and Narrabundah.
It was so bad we couldn’t even have guests around in the evening because their cars were broken into.
My neighbour awoke one night to find someone ransacking his bedside table. It was so bad we moved to another suburb, checking first that there was no public housing in that area. I have had only one similar incident since moving, over 25 years ago.
Friends in the inner south area tell me crime is still a big problem but don’t expect anyone to admit it publicly.

neanderthalsis 10:36 am 20 May 15

Grimm said :

How about you live next door to a public housing place?

I’m sure SOME public housing tenants are ok. In my experience though, a very large portion of these people are in public housing because they have made a life of bad decisions, and are just outright housos.

Selling drugs, taking drugs, domestics every other day, harassing their neighbours, stealing anything that isn’t nailed down etc etc etc. You are kidding yourself by pretending otherwise. I’ve seen it time and time again with public housing, and been unfortunate enough to live near public housing on a few occasions. ALL of the tenants were the same.

Some people need public housing for legitimate reasons. Many need it because they are either too lazy to work or can’t get a job because of their criminal history. These people shouldn’t be inflicted upon everybody else. Keep them all in their own little slums and let the rest of us live in peace.

A couple of years ago I lived a street away from Illawarra Flats in central Belconnen, our street was very quiet, made up of public servants from the nearby offices, young couples and mostly asian university students. We had very few issues, no crime to speak of and only the occasional late night drunk. I am totally in favour of the salt and peeper method, it prevents slums like MacFields, Mt Druitt and Toorak.

vintage123 10:35 am 20 May 15

I spoke with friends from Nicholls last night regarding this, all they are seeking is assurance that the development will be used for aged care as opposed to generic public housing, principally because it is situated next door to the school and childcare centre. The vacant block is situated right next door to the school and childcare centre.

bryansworld 10:15 am 20 May 15

wildturkeycanoe said :

A Nicholls resident said”The IGA supermarket is expensive along with the hairdresser so will not be in the price range for low income people to afford.”
Well, perhaps they should lower their prices then. What an absurd reason to oppose bringing “undesirable” people into their neighborhood.
They also raised concerns about increased traffic and a lack of car parking. Well obviously these tenants will not be able to afford cars if they can’t afford to shop at the IGA.
They also said “People who require supportive housing need access to larger scale supermarkets, doctors and Centrelink”. Does that mean they are proposing putting the public housing near the Gungahlin town center instead, where these services are located. Imagine the outcry from the people in the apartments around the “G”, bleating about drugos destroying their cafe district.
There is no justification, the crime stats for Nicholls aren’t much better than any Canberra suburb that has public housing.
I agree with Xtra, it shows the true colors of the Nicholls residents who would probably feel justified in building a wall around their suburb to keep out troublemakers and anyone not earning six figure salaries.

Maybe we could give them what they want. Then the way would be clear for ghettoes of McMansions for snobs, which would keep them out of sight!

wildturkeycanoe 10:02 am 20 May 15

A Nicholls resident said”The IGA supermarket is expensive along with the hairdresser so will not be in the price range for low income people to afford.”
Well, perhaps they should lower their prices then. What an absurd reason to oppose bringing “undesirable” people into their neighborhood.
They also raised concerns about increased traffic and a lack of car parking. Well obviously these tenants will not be able to afford cars if they can’t afford to shop at the IGA.
They also said “People who require supportive housing need access to larger scale supermarkets, doctors and Centrelink”. Does that mean they are proposing putting the public housing near the Gungahlin town center instead, where these services are located. Imagine the outcry from the people in the apartments around the “G”, bleating about drugos destroying their cafe district.
There is no justification, the crime stats for Nicholls aren’t much better than any Canberra suburb that has public housing.
I agree with Xtra, it shows the true colors of the Nicholls residents who would probably feel justified in building a wall around their suburb to keep out troublemakers and anyone not earning six figure salaries.

Grimm 9:30 am 20 May 15

How about you live next door to a public housing place?

I’m sure SOME public housing tenants are ok. In my experience though, a very large portion of these people are in public housing because they have made a life of bad decisions, and are just outright housos.

Selling drugs, taking drugs, domestics every other day, harassing their neighbours, stealing anything that isn’t nailed down etc etc etc. You are kidding yourself by pretending otherwise. I’ve seen it time and time again with public housing, and been unfortunate enough to live near public housing on a few occasions. ALL of the tenants were the same.

Some people need public housing for legitimate reasons. Many need it because they are either too lazy to work or can’t get a job because of their criminal history. These people shouldn’t be inflicted upon everybody else. Keep them all in their own little slums and let the rest of us live in peace.

Xtra 8:42 am 20 May 15

I too read the Canberra Times article concerning public housing planned for Nicholls and local resident’s reaction. How ignorant and precious are those who oppose the planned public housing.

To re-cap, the ACT Government is planning on putting 14 supportive homes on a community facility zoned block on Kelleway Ave. So to be clear this is a parcel of land which permits such a use. These homes will be used to house aged public housing tenants.

The suggestion by resident’s that public housing tenants are by nature paedophiles and drug users is absurd and totally ignorant.

To the comments which suggest that the public housing tenants do not use services such as hairdressers, shame on you!

The article says more about those who made the comments and to those of you who call themselves Christians- you really need to assess what Christianity is all about.

Oh and by the way- there is public housing in Nicholls – you just don’t know where. So, to the lady who won’t let her son play outside if public housing comes to Nicholls, I guess you’ll be moving or keeping him inside a lot! As John pointed out public housing also includes single residential homes.

Prestige suburbs like Red Hill and Griffith have not suffered a decline in value because of the presence of public housing- so any argument which suggests house prices will fall is also lame.

chewy14 8:34 am 20 May 15

John is correct but the solution is not to continue with public housing, it’s to eliminate it almost entirely and replace it with rental assistance for those families who need it so they can enter the private market.

If the % of troublesome tenants is as low as John suggests, then why can’t they rent private properties with financial assistance from the government instead of being provided with a government owned property? How would you ever know that your neighbour is receiving assistance if the government doesn’t own the house/unit?

The government should only own a miniscule amount of public housing stock for those citizens who are truly unable to live in private rentals.

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