21 February 2022

Public housing tenants to be forced to relocate as renewal program steps up

| Ian Bushnell
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Housing tenants and Yvette Berry

Tenants Novy Forcadas and Pat Bailey, pictured with Housing Minister Yvette Berry, relocated from older homes nearby to move into this new building in Dickson a year ago. Photo: ACT Government

Housing ACT has begun officially notifying more than 300 public housing tenants that they will have to relocate as part of the ACT Government’s renewal program.

The program has been focusing on its several thousand strong stock of three-bedroom houses across Canberra and asking tenants to move out so the sites can either be sold to generate re-investment funds or redeveloped to build modern homes.

Since the beginning of the Growing and Renewing Public Housing program in May 2019, a total of 336 households have chosen to be relocated, with 173 properties sold and 101 slated for redevelopment. Sixty-two households are still to be found a new home.

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Housing ACT engaged with 687 households and directly asked 580 tenants to relocate, and 270 have been relocated or are relocating right now, but it says this is not enough to keep the renewal program running, and the government has to make some tough decisions.

They say tenants have been approached multiple times, but the point has been reached where relocations are required.

The 314 targeted tenants received letters today (21 February) advising they will have to move, but they will be offered support.

A government spokesperson said this did not mean households would be evicted. The timeline for relocation varies case by case and depends on individual tenant needs and the availability of appropriate properties that meet these needs.

While the focus has been on larger homes, not all tenants are in properties of three bedrooms or more.

“The properties identified for sale or redevelopment can be located across all suburbs of Canberra and are older, inefficient houses that no longer meet the needs of tenants, are expensive to maintain or have reached the end of their useful life,” the spokesperson said.

Officials say eviction will be a last resort, with tenants given multiple opportunities to choose a home to go to, even if the matter gets to the ACT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Public housing in Reid

Public housing in Reid. Target households are located across Canberra. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

They will also be connected to support organisations such as Shelter ACT and Woden Community Service and legal advice through Canberra Community Law.

“Housing ACT is committed to supporting tenants before, during and after their move,” the government spokesperson said.

“We work closely with tenants, their support networks and community service providers, as part of an extensive engagement process, to relocate tenants to alternative housing.

“The relocation of tenants includes identifying individual support needs, finding the right home, help with moving, and ensuring access to any supports needed after moving.”

Housing ACT has also provided an update of the current program, which has a pipeline of 800 homes.

It also includes measures to ensure it will meet its goals by 2025 despite material and labour shortages due to the national construction boom, COVID-19 lockdowns, supply chain issues and wet weather.

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The program aims to add 400 new homes to the portfolio, a figure boosted by 140 thanks to the Greens-Labor parliamentary agreement, and deliver a total of 1400 modern homes overall.

The goal is to sell 700 houses and reinvest the proceeds into a development program that would include the demolition of 300 properties on which 700 new homes would be built and the construction of 420 greenfield properties.

Housing ACT will also go to market to acquire 140 properties.

Over the first two and a half years of the program, 143 dwellings have been bulldozed for redevelopment and 242 public housing properties sold, generating just over $195 million.

Housing ACT has spent more than $58 million buying more than 100 blocks from the Suburban Land Agency and the Asbestos Response Taskforce, completed 157 dwellings at a cost of $96 million, and also bought 76 dwellings for $52 million from the market, mostly larger properties with three or more bedrooms.

This year it will demolish a further 91 properties for redevelopment, buy 22 blocks from the SLA, and deliver 116 new constructions. It will buy 69 dwellings from the market, with five to be settled this year and the rest progressively throughout the next two years because of contract dates.

Normal construction time frames for a standard project have blown out from nine to 10 months to about 15 months, so Housing ACT has revised its work schedule to ensure that the program hits its targets by the end of 2024-25.

Housing ACT aims to have properties in every Canberra suburb. Between 2015 and 2019 it relocated 1288 tenants from 13 multi-unit properties to smaller density homes across Canberra.

Public housing stock makes up 7 per cent of Canberra homes, including Gungahlin 4 per cent, Belconnen 8 per cent, Molonglo Valley 6 per cent, Tuggeranong 8 per cent, Weston Creek 8 per cent, North Canberra 10 per cent, South Canberra 5 per cent and Woden Valley 6 per cent.

Welfare and community organisations continue to argue that the renewal program will still leave a shortfall of housing in the ACT. Around 4000 people remain on Housing ACT’s waiting list, including 485 on the priority waitlist.


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Anjuli Kanda3:07 pm 10 May 22

I just applied to buy the housing property I am living in and was rejected! Apparently they don’t have enough 3bedroom properties in my area but according to this article this is not correct. Very disheartening to see ppl being forced to move Because they can’t afford to buy the property and the tenants that can afford to buy properties are not allowed to buy them. Makes no sense to me!?!

The issue for private residents is not all about ‘public housing’ tenants ‘bludging’off the public purse BUT the lack of any action by the government against the public housing tenants that are making the lives a ‘living hell’ for neighbours. Also, how grating it is when one purchases a property (eg $600+) and next door are ‘dropkick’public housing tenants.

I worked my Butt off to buy a small one bedroom town house, unfortunately the only area I could afford was on the outskirts of a housing comission area. Prior to this I had a lot of Empathy in regards to public housing, not anymore! The dysfunction, the screaming at 2am, people walking around like meth zombies, the constant trash in the streets, getting abused for no reason…I feel so unsafe. Some of them are getting knocked down and sold privately, it can’t happen fast enough! When I first moved here, I was all ‘that’s so sad, where will they live’… to ‘ good riddance, and rehome them far away from civilisation so this doesn’t become someone elses nightmare!’

Sorry I might be missing something but why do we need so much public housing in the ACT? Canberra is meant to be the nation’s capital and it is not a good look to have 1 in 10 of the dwelling stock here represented by public housing. Why is the proportion so high when the unemployment rate is at record lows and has never been about 5% in the ACT? In theory if you are jobless and homeless you can come from any part of the country to access public housing so by building more of it we are simply attracting more jobless vagabonds and drug addicts from NSW. The ACT is a government administrated precinct and if you don’t have a public service job or private sector job that can pay the rent, you have no business being in the nation’s capital.

Sam I live in Aranda and have done so for 50 years, My venerable suburb has public housing as does Cook and Macquarie. Many of the tenants are not bums and hobos just ordinary people struggling to make do . Every suburb baring Weetangera has had public housing and once government houses were used as bait to attract public servants to uproot and come to Canberra. Many came pleased to get a house
To get a public house in Canberra you must be an ACT resident . You may have your own family members one day who will need an ACT house. Many are women leaving abusive relationships, aged pensioners , people on DSP. Just be grateful you can afford your own house as many of your fellow Canberrans cannot. Where I live we still have 2 guvvies up the back and the tenants look after their homes same as we do.

Anyone choosing to move to the ACT to get into public housing must be living in the ACT for a minimum of 6 months before they can even apply. Then they are assessed and go on the waiting list.

I don’t see why this is a bad thing.

In my opinion, the problem isn’t that the government holds too little public housing stock but rather that it holds too much, when there are other ways of providing the housing required for those who need it.

But if the government is going to hold a substantial amount of public housing stock, they should be turning it (and residents) over regularly as personal situations and the economics change to more efficiently deliver what is required.

Sure, it might be unfortunate for those who have to access the system if they have to move more often but the alternative is for more people to be out on the street completely.

Mike of Canberra12:29 pm 23 Feb 22

This article is really about reality inevitably catching up with Housing ACT. The ACT Government’s long-term manipulation of land release has artificially driven up the cost of land all over the city but especially in the inner suburbs where land values and therefore land rates and land tax have skyrocketed. Housing ACT has been slow to realise this but now is selling off many of its holdings in the inner city, thus placing practicality ahead of ideology for once. The result is that many long-term tenants are finding their homes sold off from under them, resulting in forced relocations, an uncomfortable but not undeserved situation for a group that contains so much dysfunction and such a sense of entitlement to the detriment of desperate families needing homes. Yet for years, Housing ACT refused to accept either that the continued placement of such housing in these areas represented a major misallocation of resources, or that there was anything wrong with its property and tenant management. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. But the broader reality is that this is a government that really has no idea how to manage money and thus has stubbornly stuck to its rigid but failed public housing estate and tenant (non) management strategies over many years in the face of overwhelming evidence supporting the need for change. Of course, this is the natural result of the sort of hubris that arises from the ACT electorate’s decision to keep returning this government election after election, regardless of performance. For that, we have only ourselves and the perpetually underperforming Liberal opposition to blame. Yes, that’s right, the Libs, who seem a little too comfortable with the spoils of opposition.

Public housing is an issue in every city of the world. But Australian housing is very expensive, so meeting the need is more difficult. We have a tension between need and society‘s desire to provide for all, and the ever rising cost. Maybe it’s time we stopped looking at percentages in each region, and started working out how we can maximise the number of properties. ACT still has a desire to provide one house in an expensive area when they could have two in a cheaper area. The waiting lists are too long to hold to the argument that “this is how we always did it”. I can not afford to live where I work. Like many others I’ve rented in “affordable” group housing. And finally pay “rent” to the bank far from where I work. We need to stop prioritising the wishes of existing public housing tenants and focus on reducing the waiting lists. The thousands without housing should have priority over the desires of those who have housing. It is selfish to say I should have… while others live on the streets. ACT Housing should sell all in the affluent areas and buy more where I live. Yes we may have to improve public transport, but let’s get realistic about what we can afford. Too many await housing to accept the argument of the selfish few that they should get to stay “where there is more amenity” or that “this is where I’ve always lived”. If you want housing subsidised by society, then let society provide as much of it as possible regardless of whether you find it inconvenient.

South Canberra 5 per cent
Sounds low, unless it’s the suburbs where the tenants have been concentrated. Lots in Narrabundah, but how many in Forrest? One of those big blocks in Forrest, would fit a lot of townhouses. Won’t happen though. Government housing will continue to be concentrated in only some suburbs.

The biggest barrier to placing public housing in those suburbs isn’t government, its vocal opposition from NIMBY community groups/residents.

Mike of Canberra10:01 am 23 Feb 22

No Mikey, the biggest barrier is the sheer cost of doing so, all to house a dysfunctional, poorly managed group of people near some of the richest folk in the city. That would go really well wouldn’t it?

Perhaps ask a bigger question:

Are profits from the sale of ACT Commissioner for Housing properties redirected to other public housing:
– in full?
– in part – what part?
– to consolidated ACT revenue?

Doug Parslow9:23 pm 22 Feb 22

Funny how the number of public housing has being so run down in the Inner South. Wonder if that has anything to do with higher property values. Clearly this so called Labor government thinks public housing should be mainly in the much cheaper outer suburbs. Far away from the services most need.

It’s called ‘asset recycling’. The inner areas (properties) of all cities were once cheap and that is why governments built large public housing complexes in these areas. It is smart economics, sell these now expensive properties and rebuild in cheaper areas. (It is happening all over Australia).

ACT resident5:38 pm 22 Feb 22

Our next door neighbours are not in a multi-unit property but are still to be uprooted after 28 years of caring for their public house. The same needs they had to be located in that house still are the the case and they want to stay. They have now received a number of unsigned letters from “Housing” each one increasing the pressure espousing their great opportunity without specifying where or identifying their promised “case worker”. Nothing was fixed at this property because of Covid but now in this Covid environment with significant health issues they are to be forced to move into some group situation perhaps on a greenfield site far distant from their inner south community. And no-one in the whole of Housing could take responsibility for the deluge of unsigned letters causing unbearable stress over the past year. What sort of society have we become?

Ah. Gee. More for the developers. Less for families. My next door neighbours…a young family…are leaving Canberra. They are the 5th young family in the area that I know of who are leaving Canberra this month. They will NEVER be able to buy a home here. But…hey….families??? Who cares? Well…..I don’t think our local government does.

Where are they going where they can afford a house? Housing affordability is very much a nationwide issue.

As for more for developers and less for families, whilst it may well mean less land per dwelling, more development leads to more supply which should in theory help with affordability.

All cities are expensive. They will need to move to a country town to find cheaper housing.

Maya even that can be expensive, regional housing has seen a large price rise with people doing just that plus you need to factor in generally lower incomes in the regions.

To be honest I am not sure what the solution really is that will not do fiscal harm to someone.

Yes regional to a city can be expensive, but go further west houses are cheaper. In Bourke for instance, houses can be bought for under $200,000. There are seven blocks of land available, starting from $15,000. Narrabri some are available for under $400,000.
Want a bigger town. Moree has houses for under $400,000, some for under $300,000.
Then some very small towns would be very cheap.

(I have lived in a town with 500 people.)

What work is available in these towns though is questionable. I grew up in small towns and came to the big smoke (Canberra) for work, when none, except serving in the local café, was available in the country town. Didn’t have internet in those days though for working online, and there can be jobs for people in some trades.
I am not suggesting that moving to these towns is practical for many people, only that cheaper housing is available as I said. Being someone who didn’t grow in in cities (except for three years in Brisbane) I was likely thinking of places that most city people would never consider a an option.

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