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.
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.