Public housing stigma continues

John Hargreaves 19 April 2016 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.


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dungfungus dungfungus 12:28 pm 25 May 15

cantdance said :

I have to ask, why does everyone call this ‘salt and pepper’. That usually means intermixing black and white. Since when was this a race thing? My understanding is that it’s mixing those less fortunate into various suburbs, which would normally be called ‘peppering’.

You want to ‘pepper’ the public housing homes into other suburbs. Don’t you? Or have I missed the meaning behind this issue.

It’s terminology the trendoids have hijacked. They think it fits the bill.
I am old enough to remember when “gay” meant “being happy”.

cantdance cantdance 12:17 pm 25 May 15

I have to ask, why does everyone call this ‘salt and pepper’. That usually means intermixing black and white. Since when was this a race thing? My understanding is that it’s mixing those less fortunate into various suburbs, which would normally be called ‘peppering’. You want to ‘pepper’ the public housing homes into other suburbs. Don’t you? Or have I missed the meaning behind this issue.

Maya123 Maya123 10:53 am 24 May 15

Masquara said :

Maya123 said :

Over a certain income a person doesn’t qualify for public housing.

Once they’re in they don’t get kicked out no matter how high their income.

I thought they had to leave. Is this article wrong? What more correct information do you have?
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/rich-public-housing-tenants-evicted-20121016-27pk6.html

Masquara Masquara 11:57 pm 23 May 15

Maya123 said :

Over a certain income a person doesn’t qualify for public housing.

Once they’re in they don’t get kicked out no matter how high their income.

tooltime tooltime 10:49 pm 22 May 15

+1 Chewy14,

Governments everywhere ought to have no business owning real estate and then leasing it out on yields of 1% or less to government housing tenants. This is a demented wealth destruction policy that taxpayers get a very raw deal out of.

The author even admits taxpayers lifted him up the social ladder. Where is the equity in that?

Still, I do agree with the salt & pepper approach…just not the funding of it.

wildturkeycanoe wildturkeycanoe 2:13 pm 22 May 15

Southmouth said :

There are a few distinct groups among public housing tenants. It’s those who choose not to participate in the employment sector who need to be “salt and peppered” to prevent them from forming their own subculture. It would make more sense to stop providing public housing as an inticment

Public housing isn’t an enticement, it is the last resort before a sleeping bag under an overpass.
There are families with children in waiting lists for public housing. Some of them sleep in friend’s lounge suites until an opportunity comes up. Maybe there are drug problems, maybe it is health problems, but they cannot afford or aren’t able to get a private rental – especially when you look at rental prices in the A.C.T and the hoops you have to jump through in order to qualify for one. Whatever the case, a government offered house is a better alternative to sleeping on the streets and it wouldn’t matter how far it is from public health or shopping facilities, the tenants would be grateful for a roof over their heads.
There are numerous townhouses located directly adjacent the shops and nearby the school and if the locals want to use a broad brush to paint the public housing tenants, I could use the same brush to identify townhouse complexes as criminal hideouts, full of burnout kings in beaten up cars who prowl the suburbs at night looking for homes to break in to. I have personally witnessed the prevalence of domestic disputes and all kinds of property damage in townhouse complexes. I will not go so far as to say that they are all like that nor that all their residents are like that. Unfortunately it appears that if the townhouses are occupied by high income earners then it is okay to live in Nicholls, but if they are on welfare they aren’t welcome.
As hard as the residents try to deny this and point to other factors, it won’t wash, the truth is there for all to see.

Southmouth Southmouth 12:56 pm 22 May 15

There are a few distinct groups among public housing tenants. It’s those who choose not to participate in the employment sector who need to be “salt and peppered” to prevent them from forming their own subculture. It would make more sense to stop providing public housing as an inticment

Maya123 Maya123 12:50 pm 22 May 15

old canberran said :

I’m really having a problem believing what I am reading in this topic. Canberra was founded on Government funded housing. Every suburb contains Government built houses some more than others. O’Malley and Isaacs are the only ones to my knowledge that have none at all up to 1988 when I left Canberra. Some suburbs have as high as 60% govt. housing and other as low as 20%, all built without any interference from people like some of the residents of Nicholls.
I lived in Braddon in a Government House, the in one in Watson when I got married. Most public servants who moved to Canberra in the 60’s were houses in Government houses. So what’s the problem with the Nicholls residents? Is it perhaps the use of the word “public” instead of “Government”.
Are they reading it as housing for “low income” earners. Maybe the ACT Government needs to think about creating residential areas like the old Narrabundah pre-fabs and the Causeway.

It is housing for “low income earners”. Over a certain income a person doesn’t qualify for public housing. The average occupant of public houses these days is different to the average occupant of it when Canberra was first established. Then it was anyone; public servants, tradespeople (probably that should be tradesmen…could women get a house without a man?), etc. Now it is low income earners; many of whom are normal people, but a percentage are people with social difficulties, who would find renting privately almost impossible.

dungfungus dungfungus 12:10 pm 22 May 15

old canberran said :

I’m really having a problem believing what I am reading in this topic. Canberra was founded on Government funded housing. Every suburb contains Government built houses some more than others. O’Malley and Isaacs are the only ones to my knowledge that have none at all up to 1988 when I left Canberra. Some suburbs have as high as 60% govt. housing and other as low as 20%, all built without any interference from people like some of the residents of Nicholls.
I lived in Braddon in a Government House, the in one in Watson when I got married. Most public servants who moved to Canberra in the 60’s were houses in Government houses. So what’s the problem with the Nicholls residents? Is it perhaps the use of the word “public” instead of “Government”.
Are they reading it as housing for “low income” earners. Maybe the ACT Government needs to think about creating residential areas like the old Narrabundah pre-fabs and the Causeway.

Not low “income”; low “thinking”.

devils_advocate devils_advocate 11:36 am 22 May 15

vintage123 said :

Um I tend to disagree. I live in a very nice area, albeit a laneway, of red hill and I have good friends that live in Nicholls. There home is very nice, the street is lovely and all of the blocks are 900m2 or larger. Access to civic is 13 minutes, bus services are good, schooling is excellent and gold creek provides a relaxing environment for a weekend luncheon. The clubs are of high standard and the golf courses are up there in terms of quality and design. Nicholls provides very nice modern homes on large land parcels in a convenient locale with most mod cons and services. You will never be able to buy into a new development which is designed like Nicholls. The only missing component is a hospital to the north.

Um, the numbers tend to disagree with you.
1) not all of nicholls is Harcourt hill.
2) nicholls is not zoned for medium or high density housing. Despite that, it has more than double the density of some of the *actual* prestige suburbs I mentioned. Those suburbs that have comparable density to Nicholls all have high-rise apartments which would push their average density up.

Add those factors together and you have cookie-cutter wannabe mcmansions crammed close together on small blocks with no yards or visual amenity, aka future ghetto. And as was already mentioned, your travel times to the city would assume a degree of flexibility in ACT road user laws, and probably the laws of physics.

The residents of Nicholls should know their place. The existing residents trying to distinguish themselves from the proposed new residents is, in economic terms, no more than hair-splitting. I suppose everyone wants to look down on someone, however this is just delusional.

old canberran old canberran 6:10 pm 21 May 15

I’m really having a problem believing what I am reading in this topic. Canberra was founded on Government funded housing. Every suburb contains Government built houses some more than others. O’Malley and Isaacs are the only ones to my knowledge that have none at all up to 1988 when I left Canberra. Some suburbs have as high as 60% govt. housing and other as low as 20%, all built without any interference from people like some of the residents of Nicholls.
I lived in Braddon in a Government House, the in one in Watson when I got married. Most public servants who moved to Canberra in the 60’s were houses in Government houses. So what’s the problem with the Nicholls residents? Is it perhaps the use of the word “public” instead of “Government”.
Are they reading it as housing for “low income” earners. Maybe the ACT Government needs to think about creating residential areas like the old Narrabundah pre-fabs and the Causeway.

vintage123 vintage123 4:23 pm 21 May 15

taninaus said :

vintage123 said :

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.

I am not sure what the point of this argument is from your friends – why would the age of the tenants make any difference?

I agree with you John that the quotes in the article were very narrow minded and terribly ignorant. Unfortunately a typical media beat up. Yes there are public housing tenants that are not nice to live next to, but I have also had my share of living next to people who owned or rented houses in the burbs that were not nice to live next to as well. I have also had public housing tenants who were lovely to live near and a positive part of our local community. This is the best thing about Canberra, you might be able to pick the public housing tenant, but in most cases you can’t.

Because during the consultation process only elderly aged care was proposed. As the process is moving to the right it is changing and those who agreed to the original proposal are now questioning where it is going. I my eyes there is no difference however I don’t think it is ethical for tick to consultation development box with a business case stipulating aged care and elderly and then change scope once impacted residents have on the specifics.

Postalgeek Postalgeek 9:42 am 21 May 15

Maya123 said :

dungfungus said :

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.

I’ve lived in Narrabundah for over thirty years and never had any problem, unless you count my garbage bin and mop being stolen. There were incidents (fortunately not involving me), but they came from both government houses and privately owned houses. Two houses across the street for instance, were dealing in drugs; one was a government house (I think), but the other house was owned by the pushers. I will admit though, that my observation was that the government houses, on average, were less cared for. An old story from many years ago. At one stage Narrabundah’s break-ins dropped dramatically and Griffiths went up. We were told this at a Neighbourhood Watch meeting, but the police didn’t know why. Nothing was said, but we knew why. The story circulating was, local burglars had had a visit from some locals and told to leave Narrabundah alone or else. That was the old Narrabundah. Times have moved on.

Salt and pepper is the way to go. I lived next to a family in public housing in Narrabundah. They were fine. In fact they were more vigilant of human dross than me. Luck of the draw, but spreading it out gives the decent families a safer, more normal environment. No suburb should be too good for salt and peppering.

wildturkeycanoe wildturkeycanoe 6:42 am 21 May 15

There is some nice slow moving traffic in the Gungahlin area that could well use a few window washers – job opportunities for the new tenants and a public service to all those Nicholls residents who don’t have a decent transport network and rely on their Prados and Beemers to get to Civic for work. It’s win-win and a great way for the two distinctively different socioeconomic classes to meet and greet.

Fritz Fritz 1:31 am 21 May 15

Postalgeek said :

The Government should shift all inner public housing to Gungahlin to free up prime real estate so they can flog it to raise some cash for the light rail

I think you’re right. Our ACT Labor Government isn’t really trying to do the right thing by the public housing tenants, they’re trying to get them out of the way. The real agenda here is a cash grab so they can waste $800 million + building a train… it’s irresponsible government.

Fritz Fritz 1:21 am 21 May 15

I think the real problem is that there is little community trust in our ACT Labor Government. They claim that the land will be used to house the elderly and disabled, which on the surface is fine, but the ACT Government is not prepared to assure Nicholls’ residents that the situation won’t change in 5 or 10 years. In that time the property could turn into drug and alcohol rehabilitation housing.

To claim that property values don’t drop when near public housing is ridiculous. Take two identical houses, one next to a public housing estate and one 500m up the road, where will the greater market demand be… obviously up the road. The tenants currently living in the public housing might be model citizens that you might like to invite over for lunch, but there is a far higher chance than normal that problems will occur with later tenants… and people don’t want to take that risk.

I wrote to ACT Government concerning this development, not on the basis of “dangerous tenants”, or crime etc., as I agree with John, it’s an overgeneralisation and unfair to the majority of ACT Housing tenants. I wrote to ACT Government about the suitability of the development for housing elderly and disabled people… there are going to be 14 properties, crammed into a small space, a long way for decent medical and other facilities… it’s an injustice to the tenants.

Some of my points were:

– The complex is meant to have two parking spaces per unit. To those people thinking about writing that most of these people don’t have cars etc., that is irrelevant as the intention is for two car spaces per unit, if the ACT Government didn’t want this then they wouldn’t design it this way. The problem is that the car spaces are extremely narrow and in no way meet the requirements of car spots for people with disability.

– The roads are very narrow, they appear to be less than one car length wide, a young fit person would have trouble parking there – definitely not suitable for the elderly or disabled.

– There’s insufficient parking for support vehicles on property, e.g. carers, ambulances, etc. According to ACT Legislation all on-stay and operational car parking must be on-site; this will not be possible with this development.

– As the property is intended for the elderly and disabled it would be better located near facilities for the elderly and disabled… it’s no-where near such facilities, and good luck trying to get into a doctor in Gungahlin that bulk bills in a short timeframe.

– The position of the driveway is going to represent a traffic hazard and, as the architect points out in the plan, can’t be sensibly moved.

I think it’s the ACT Government that John needs to be directing its comments to, as our Government shouldn’t be suggesting that the elderly and people with disability live in this type of property. I get the impression that ACT Government is trying to shove these people out of the way; away from areas such as Civic that have a wealth of amenities to the far ends of Canberra.

Andrew Barr wrote back to me regarding my letter; I was outraged at his response. He sent back a generic response about how the Public Housing Renewal Taskforce had carefully listened to the people of Nicholls and they’d reduced the development from 16 to 14 properties. Well Andrew Barr clearly hadn’t been listening, as his response didn’t come close to addressing any of the points in my letter. Our ACT Labor Government doesn’t really care about these people; it’s just trying to get them out of the way and its using political spin to justify it.

creative_canberran creative_canberran 12:18 am 21 May 15

Comments by the residents were terrible. So much stereotyping, and counterproductive. Concentrate disadvtange and you create stigma, isolation and the woes become a certainty. Break up into the community and its much better.

dungfungus dungfungus 8:30 pm 20 May 15

dungfungus said :

Maya123 said :

dungfungus said :

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.

I’ve lived in Narrabundah for over thirty years and never had any problem, unless you count my garbage bin and mop being stolen. There were incidents (fortunately not involving me), but they came from both government houses and privately owned houses. Two houses across the street for instance, were dealing in drugs; one was a government house (I think), but the other house was owned by the pushers. I will admit though, that my observation was that the government houses, on average, were less cared for. An old story from many years ago. At one stage Narrabundah’s break-ins dropped dramatically and Griffiths went up. We were told this at a Neighbourhood Watch meeting, but the police didn’t know why. Nothing was said, but we knew why. The story circulating was, local burglars had had a visit from some locals and told to leave Narrabundah alone or else. That was the old Narrabundah. Times have moved on.

That’s an urban myth.

Or should I have said “sub-urban myth”.
Either way it has offended the moderators.

dungfungus dungfungus 8:26 pm 20 May 15

Postalgeek said :

So Nicholls is a prestige suburb..snork!

The Government should shift all inner public housing to Gungahlin to free up prime real estate so they can flog it to raise some cash for the light rail servicing all the new public housing in Gungahlin.

Also consider moving it to AMC so visiting hours can be easier.

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