Time for ACT Housing to think family first

Ian Bushnell 18 April 2021 79
Canberra mother Belinda Nunn with her five girls

Canberra mother Belinda Nunn (second from left) with her five girls. Photo: Supplied.

The plight of former Barnardo’s mother of the year and mum of seven Belinda Nunn brings into sharp focus the housing crisis facing many Canberrans, particularly families who may not fit easily into apartment living.

With a vacancy rate of just 0.7 per cent and only about 500 properties available to rent in the ACT, the competition for an apartment is intense enough, let alone a house, especially one with four bedrooms or more.

To receive notice at this time fills tenants with dread, and that’s the environment Ms Nunn has entered in the private rental market, and why she has gone to ACT Housing seeking a public housing property.

She is on the priority list, along with 19 others.


READ ALSO: ACT housing crisis puts family of eight at risk of homelessness


This inability of the market to provide sufficient properties at an affordable rent has prompted calls from welfare groups for the ACT Government to step up and do even more than the regularly touted public housing renewal program to fill the gap.

The government says the need for large houses represents only about 8 per cent of total demand, and that there will be 250 such properties built under the 10-year Housing Strategy released in 2018.

But the main focus in the renewal program is on smaller one and two-bedroom apartments, mostly multi-storey dwellings.

The point Ms Nunn raises is that some of ACT Housing’s larger houses are occupied by single tenants or couples whose children have grown up and moved on.

For those who may have raised children in a home and lived in the same neighbourhood for years, building social connections and developing a sense of place, the thought of moving could be difficult, even traumatic, especially if they are getting on in years.

But in the current circumstances, ACT Housing needs to make the most of its resources and manage its tenants more effectively.

ACT Housing development in Rowley Street

A recently completed ACT Housing development in Rowley Street, Dickson.

It does not make sense for someone to be locking up a four to six-bedroom house when there are families in real need.

There should be mechanisms in place in place to review the occupancy of properties so that when circumstances change, tenants can be matched with appropriately sized homes.

Although ACT Housing is assisting tenants to move out of their oversized homes into new housing, such as a new development in Dickson, unofficially, they can be there for life.

It is an invidious position for the government with no easy choices, and plenty of options for bad looks.

And it is no simple matter of reallocating homes because there needs to be a dwelling for people to go to, and with nearly 3,000 on the waiting list and finite resources, that may just not be possible.

But without a massive boost to supply and welfare organisations calculating that the government’s renewal program will still fall short of what is needed, ACT Housing will need to reassess its management policies and make some tough decisions.

It will need to be more proactive about property availability and appropriateness, and inject more agility and flexibility into the program, so families in need can be properly prioritised.

For Ms Nunn, it may be a case of breaking up the family and spreading the older ones around to avoid homelessness, but even then, the chances of securing shelter are not good.

For some families, this will not be an option, and sleeping in the car during a Canberra winter may be their only prospect.

In possibly Australia’s most affluent city, that it has come to this should be our shame.


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79 Responses to Time for ACT Housing to think family first
chewy14 chewy14 2:57 pm 21 Apr 21

The solution to this is simple.

Instead of building more public housing, the government should divest itself of almost all of it.

The vast majority of people in public housing could operate in the private rental market but for price. So the government should provide these people with rental “vouchers” that would be used to supplement their own finances.

That way, the market will ensure that housing stock is more efficiently allocated because there would be a clear price signal to tenants.

Ol L Ol L 10:22 am 20 Apr 21

For every larger older inner suburban house they sell they could build at least two more in the outer suburbs. Why not do that?

Fiona Marshall Fiona Marshall 7:37 am 20 Apr 21

I’ve been following this story and I empathise with the issues but let me play devil’s advocate for a moment.

One suggestion in this article is for ACT housing to move people out of their long term home to smaller more appropriate sized housing. It’s not that simple. Why? Because the public & media will then get up ACT housing for kicking someone out of there home. I’ve worked in government where we had rental properties and we couldn’t even kick out people who were months behind on their rent and had made significant damage to it. Every time we attempted to they got the media involved and we got flack for doing it.

So while I understand, empathise and agree… think about the other side of it too.

    JC JC 4:18 am 21 Apr 21

    So so true. With social media such as this type of site and Facebook etc so many political decisions these days are about optics and keeping at bay bad press.

    In years gone by sure that kind of thing happened but not to the same scale as not everyone’s story got told by the media available at the time.

Mohammad Jaleel Ahmed Mohammad Jaleel Ahmed 7:22 am 20 Apr 21

It’s good someone bought this topic today and there may have been few in the past. At first, I didn’t know where to voice my concern’s or probably set a scheduled meeting with a minister for my issues, I am a single earner for my family with a sick wife who is epileptic for the whole life that was diagnosed with a scare in the brain and with a little toddler to take care off. I find it difficult to rent a property and I and not sure of How my application will be with the whole lot in hand already. The private rental properties in Canberra are skyrocketing with rental prices and day by day ACT seems to be provisioning less to hard earners and struggling to live a decent life.
Our current state governement needs to look into this issues ASAP .

Dylan Salafia Dylan Salafia 6:45 am 20 Apr 21

This is sad so many people doing it tough

In this dump we have been applying for provide rentals and when we go to an inspection there is whole street line ups everything is getting worse and expensive in this place

Josh Shirley Josh Shirley 12:54 am 20 Apr 21

I had a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom townhouse in Melbourne 30mins from the city and the mortgage was $200 a week cheaper than any rental in Canberra.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 4:47 am 20 Apr 21

    Josh Shirley and when did you buy this property and how much equity did you have when you brought?

Maya123 Maya123 10:54 pm 19 Apr 21

“It does not make sense for someone to be locking up a four to six-bedroom house”

How many four or six bedroom government houses are there? I would imagine very few. Most are likely three bedroom.

David Ambrews David Ambrews 10:34 pm 19 Apr 21

ACTH should build more suitable housing

Sue Dish Itup Sue Dish Itup 10:17 pm 19 Apr 21

ACTH needs to review their policies. People who signed agreements before 1988 are able to stay in their big houses after their family have moved out. This would ease some of the waiting time for families in need.

mitch82 mitch82 7:08 pm 19 Apr 21

20 years of Labor. For all those who are suffering and voted for them again…enjoy!

    Ian Ian 10:13 pm 19 Apr 21

    Yeah! Like the Liberals would do any better. I’m about 100% confident they would make things worse.

    And it’s not like this is a recommendation for Labor and the Greens. Their performance is no better than fair to middling. But its a sad fact that the Liberals fail to offer a viable alternative government.

Kerry-anne Stafford Kerry-anne Stafford 5:50 pm 19 Apr 21

I’m a mum of 7 and was made homeless last year. ACT housing had me in a holiday park in Watson where I had to pay $600 a week (they paid the rest) for 8.5 weeks. ACTH approved my application for housing than put me and my kids in a temporary townhouse (only allowed to stay for 12mths only) until the permanent house was organized. I have also been applying for private rentals in the mean time. 6mths later ACTH have retracted the approval of the application and have given me until August 2021 to remove from the temporary house. As I’ve had no luck with the private market (3 yrs and 275 failed applications) my family and I will find ourselves homeless once again. ACT Housing is a joke approving applications then retracting approvals.

    Sue Dish Itup Sue Dish Itup 10:14 pm 19 Apr 21

    Kerry-anne Stafford that’s absolutely atrocious! Go to your local member, they hold that position to serve you, the people.

    Remi Fletcher Remi Fletcher 10:39 pm 19 Apr 21

    Kerry-anne Stafford contact Yvette Berry

    Vanessa McIntosh Vanessa McIntosh 12:37 am 20 Apr 21

    Remi Fletcher Yvette berry ignores anything that makes her look bad

    If I was Kerry-Anne I’d be talking to Mark Parton MLA

    Lea Powell Lea Powell 10:45 am 20 Apr 21

    Kerry-anne Stafford appeal the decision. Why have they revoked it. Don’t take that lying down.

    Kerry-anne Stafford Kerry-anne Stafford 4:51 pm 22 Apr 21

    I have appealed twice

Jan Skorich Jan Skorich 4:45 pm 19 Apr 21

What about those families who were moved into a three bedroom house when they had only two children, went on to have a total of six children, but remained in the cramped three bedroom house? Will they be required to relinquish their family home when all or most of their children have left? Seems to me there should be a little flexibility on this issue.

Vivienne Shield Vivienne Shield 3:41 pm 19 Apr 21

How dare you suggest that a single/couple who have lived in a 4 bedroom house for 50 years move out. They may have regular family visiting as I do on the Gold Coast. You want to break up families and scatter them to the four winds? Come up with a better solution.

    Jeff Wilson Jeff Wilson 12:53 am 20 Apr 21

    No one is suggesting that people move out of their own house. They are suggesting that single/couples living in public housing should move out of properties larger than they require. These are the people who through their own incompetence and/or life choices are unable to support themselves like an adult. They have no ownership of the property whatsoever. Of course they should be grateful of any accommodation offered to them at below market rates. Beggars can’t be choosers! If they want to be able to choose their location and size of property, then work for it and pay for it like the rest of us adults have to!

    JC JC 4:15 am 21 Apr 21

    If they are renting an ACT government property and no longer have a need for a property that big then yes they should be moved on to something smaller like a 2 bedroom place so there is a spare bed.

    But remaining in a 4 beddie so that visitors have a place to stay is not what government housing is all about.

    Ps my mum was in this same situation. Had a 4 beddie which she raised her kids in, but moved into a 2 bedroom at her insistence when that become too big to properly keep.

ChrisinTurner ChrisinTurner 1:13 pm 19 Apr 21

Is that development in Dickson the one they have to demolish?

Candace Driscoll Candace Driscoll 12:59 pm 19 Apr 21

I don't understand how people can live in ACT housing for 20+ years. It should be temp until you can afford private housing. The whole system needs an update.

    Ashley Latimer Ashley Latimer 1:11 pm 19 Apr 21

    Candace Driscoll people get stuck living in government housing for 20 years because wages haven't been increasing at the same rate as cost of living. This is endemic to the entire country.

    Jake Chalks Jake Chalks 1:18 pm 19 Apr 21

    You pay a set % of what you earn for your rent, so if you start to earn a lot, you will be paying a higher price than normal rent. People that stay in it for 20+ years generally do so cos it's all they can afford..

    Candace Driscoll Candace Driscoll 1:21 pm 19 Apr 21

    Jake Chalks I know that, but it doesn't help all the people on the waiting list. The gov makes more money which is great for them.

    Candace Driscoll Candace Driscoll 1:27 pm 19 Apr 21

    Ashley Latimer true, but if their circumstances change. Like family grows up and leaves. They should be moved into an appropriate sized place and let desperate families have a house.

    Connor Erwin Connor Erwin 2:06 pm 19 Apr 21

    Jake Chalks yeah you sure do mate I grew up in government housing and as soon as you turn 18 you pay a percentage of the the rental value on the market. I was paying about 200 a week to the Government and 80 a week for food ect to my mum. Also when i went to take out my leave I also had about 25% go to housing. Not a system to help people get out more of a trap I think !

    Connor Erwin Connor Erwin 2:07 pm 19 Apr 21

    Whilst earning about $580 a week or less from memory

    Claire Eljay Claire Eljay 2:29 pm 19 Apr 21

    Candace Driscoll there's a huge gap between rent controlled social housing and paying for private rental though. So unless the household like, doubles their income or more, moving from social housing to private is a pretty huge financial change they wouldn't be able to afford, like 25% income on rent going up to 50-60% or more. It's no wonder some households are there a long time when there's nothing low cost in the private market

    Lauren Herbert Lauren Herbert 2:49 pm 19 Apr 21

    Candace Driscoll the original tenancy agreements are not structured in this way and cannot be retroactively altered. The tenants are for Bette rot worse legally entitled to remain. So HACT has to work on sweetening the deal if they want people to move out. Offering someone who has lived 20+ years in a 3 bed in the Inner South relocation to a one bed in Coombs is unlikely to get any buy in.

    Lesli Cameron Lesli Cameron 3:09 pm 19 Apr 21

    Lauren Herbert shouldn't get a choice. Get what you need, not what you want.

    Lauren Herbert Lauren Herbert 3:12 pm 19 Apr 21

    Lesli Cameron that’s not how contracts work- original tenants from 20+ years ago signed contracts entitling them to continued housing unless they consent. Can’t undo that now. Should doesn’t really come into it.

    Bel Lee Bel Lee 4:29 pm 19 Apr 21

    Stuck is the word, if you live in gov housing you relinquish the right to rental references. All housing will tell a private landlord is that you were a tenant. The will not say how much rent you paid, or if it was paid on time. They will not say if you left the property in good repair or if you got your bond back. And as Connor says, if you turn 18, you pay. Whether or not you have an income.

    Jenny McInnes Jenny McInnes 4:52 pm 19 Apr 21

    If you are working fulltime and in goverment housing you most likely will be paying full rent - not a reduced rent

    Jenny McInnes Jenny McInnes 4:54 pm 19 Apr 21

    You can get a copy of your payment history, copies of your inspections and if you have moved out take your final inspection report

    Jenny McInnes Jenny McInnes 4:56 pm 19 Apr 21

    Lauren Herbert, its called secure of tenure. Unless someone breaks their tenancy agreement in someway ie debt etc

    Jenny McInnes Jenny McInnes 5:08 pm 19 Apr 21

    Connor, 25% of $580 = $145

    Lesli Cameron Lesli Cameron 5:13 pm 19 Apr 21

    Lauren Herbert surely they aren't open ended contracts.

    Lauren Herbert Lauren Herbert 5:16 pm 19 Apr 21

    Lesli Cameron from the act: “The principal of security of tenure still underpins Housing ACT tenancies to a large extent. It is relatively rare for Housing ACT to use the “no cause” provision in the Standard Terms (clause 94).” E.g. it is rare to unheard of for HACT to terminate because there is a principal of security of tenure. You can be moved if your income exceeds 98k for two years running

    Candace Driscoll Candace Driscoll 6:46 pm 19 Apr 21

    Lauren Herbert Wow that is a lot of money you have to be making. Must be above the average wage.

    Candace Driscoll Candace Driscoll 6:50 pm 19 Apr 21

    Bel Lee The whole system needs an overhaul. It makes no sense to charge the kids, but potentially it sounds like they are making more money than the market rental value of a property if multiple people are paying? It is also unfair that you can't get a reference if you are a good tenant. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that what looks black/white is always shades of grey.

    Tahlia Schwalm Tahlia Schwalm 8:36 pm 19 Apr 21

    Candace Driscoll some people can never afford it.

    Even whilst working full time.

    Lesli Cameron Lesli Cameron 9:02 pm 19 Apr 21

    Candace Driscoll $47,060.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 4:43 am 20 Apr 21

    Candace Driscoll they never make more than market value of the property. Whilst rent is based on a percentage of income of all adults who live in the property, it is capped at market value.

    Sarah Enn Sarah Enn 9:00 am 20 Apr 21

    Lesli Cameron the average wage in Canberra is $94,172

    https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6330502/canberra-wages-are-flatlining-although-theres-a-little-bit-of-good-news-for-women/

    Renea Hazel Renea Hazel 10:09 am 20 Apr 21

    Jenny McInnes government 'market rent' is still quite a bit cheaper than private market rent eg. for a 2-bedroom HACT unit in Braddon HACT deems the market rent to be around $450, just did a quick check of allhomes and for that price up to over $500 a week you will only get a 1-bedroom on the private market.

    Renea Hazel Renea Hazel 10:11 am 20 Apr 21

    Bel Lee you are provided with regular rent statements and copies of inspection reports. Usually that should be sufficient to demonstrate that you are a good tenant.

    Jenny McInnes Jenny McInnes 10:21 am 20 Apr 21

    Max Kelty yes it is, it was based on 80% of market value. I do not know if that is still the case.

    Bel Lee Bel Lee 10:38 am 20 Apr 21

    Max Kelty So I thought. I was wrong.

    Renea Hazel Renea Hazel 8:45 pm 20 Apr 21

    Bel Lee your housing manager mustn't be doing their job then or else processes have changed. When I was a HM at HACT people were posted out quarterly rent statements and inspection reports were done in triplicate (pink, white and yellow pages) with one of these pages (can't remember what colour) left with the tenant at the inspection. Granted, that was about 10 years ago so things may be different now.

Mike of Canberra Mike of Canberra 12:18 pm 19 Apr 21

This is at least the fourth article on this issue this year. What is the point of writing article after article on the parlous state of ACT public housing? When will we see decisive action to drive needed changes including more rigorous tenancy management and the elimination of corrupt and dishonest practices in public housing? There are plenty of organisations with the power and influence to drive such change, ranging from ACTCOSS and other community groups to the ACT Liberal opposition. We need and expect action not words.

No Pickles No Pickles 10:50 am 19 Apr 21

Government has more interest in putting new suburbs up and increasing land tax and rate to raise revenue rather than invest in something like government housing for people in real need as they do not generate immediate income and result may not show in 10-20 years. Thought ACT may do much better than other state as labour has got this for years but guess that’s also a bad thing considering they may thought they never gotta loss it.

Ol L Ol L 10:42 am 19 Apr 21

Unbelievable that a single person can stay in a family home indefinitely. Shame on you ACT Housing

    ChrisinTurner ChrisinTurner 1:16 pm 19 Apr 21

    You should not need to be desperate to stay in public housing.

Steve Ulr Steve Ulr 9:13 am 19 Apr 21

Lets see photos of the state of the properties that are locked up. Are they fit for habitation?

    Renea Hazel Renea Hazel 10:52 am 19 Apr 21

    Steve Ulr the headline doesn't mean literally locked up, it means that a single person can be taking up a 3 - or 4-bedroom property that could be used for a bigger family. Aside from this lady and her generosity in taking in children who need a home, I would be telling people to stop having more kids than you can accommodate. Because this happens a fair bit. I work in youth accommodation services and we always see teenagers pushed out of the family govvie home and into the system because the parents keep having more kids that they can support.

Lea Powell Lea Powell 9:11 am 19 Apr 21

It is a very simple thing to do to write an article saying HACT should do better. The reality is far different. This article highlights that there is a lack of property for people to be moved into, however, for an article like this to be more effective, there needs to be further understanding of the difficulties involved. Yes I can attest to the fact that HACT are difficult to deal with in all respects.

Whilst there are some wonderful supportive staff, the overwhelming nature and attitude of HACT a staff is negative and unhelpful.

One of the biggest issues is that tenants who have been in housing a long time have security over the property. That’s not debatable, it’s just exactly what was being offered at the time they signed leases. HACT staff can ask, they can sweeten the deal they can beg, but at the end of the day these tenants are NOT OBLIGED to move.

Clearly, there comes a time when these people agree to move. Then the shortage of places to put them comes into play, according to your article there is no where for them to go.

Even if the tenant agrees and I can personally attest to this myself, the follow up actions of starting the process to move tenants never happens. according to Canberra Community Laws HACT lawyer, HACT are disengenuous about the whole process.

My experience is that HACT are all talk and very little action. I had this conversation with my regional Manager in September last year, I am still waiting for her to send me the paperwork. She promised certain actions, and I am still waiting,.... other staff I have spoken to tell me this hasn’t happened, and is not recorded on my file.

The level of paperwork and records from my own tenant file that I have acquired over the past year, demonstrate a staff that are unprofessional, have no idea of what to do and also HACT tenancy files end up being spread to many different people at the same time, that whilst one staff member waits thinking someone else is doing the work so they don’t have to, and the person with the file thinks that the next person will deal with that issue so they leave it for them.

in the past year I personally have raised with HACT a perhaps 8 second level complaints, about Maintenance and other issues, I have a major review of HACT underway from within the Department, I have three ministerials on the go and a Human Rights complaint, happening.

is anything going to be achieved? It’s highly unlikely.

I told my Manager several years ago, that the only way HACT actually does anything is when you take them to court. she laughed and went back to the office and wrote derogatory comments about that, to other staff, however, it’s proving true. My next step is to go to court, because a directive court order is the only thing that seems to work.

Further, in my fight with them, I have looked at policies around professional behaviour and expectations, the training that staff are expected to undergo, and yet clearly do not demonstrate having learnt from doing them, and much much more. it would shock a person who has a good understanding of the expectations of Public servants.

Here is the rub though, even if I moved tomorrow,my house would not be able to be tenanted for many months. the amount of maintenance that needs to be performed on my house is shocking. Within the paperwork I now have, I also have a detailed list of how much money has been spent on maintaining my property over the tenancy. In the last ten years, HACT has spent less than one thousand dollars a year for 7 of those years. whilst this reflects that I care for my property, it is also rather shameful because the house has deteriorated over that time, and will requires significant rectification before tenanting.

going back to my original statement, it’s so simple to write an article suggesting that HACT need to move tenants on so that houses can be more appropriately utilised, but your writer needs to have a better understanding of the practical difficulties that underpin such a whim.

    Lea Powell Lea Powell 12:18 pm 19 Apr 21

    Blake Anthony Cross not sure what you are saying here? Read your other post, are you implying that I am having a tanty?

    Because that’s not the case.

    If the site wants to tell tenants they need to move they need to understand exactly how intransigent the Department are rather than just slapping tenants around on socials. In almost all cases, it’s not the tenant that’s the problem, it’s the system and the staff.

    Not having social housing isn’t an option, It’s an agreed form of support under UN agreements for all Humans world wide.

    Running it well across all aspects of its remit is an obligation that successive ACT governments have failed at. Getting it right is hard, complex and multifaceted.

    Jenny McInnes Jenny McInnes 4:50 pm 19 Apr 21

    Lea, much of what you have said is right and you seem to understand while you have many complaints about HACT they are constrained at least somewhat and have been under what ever goverment is in power.

    The biggest problems I see is funding, enough of the right staff and keeping staff. Clearly there are other issues, however without funding it makes it very difficult to mantain the 13,000+ properties train and recruit staff plus rebates, court cost, debt, etc etc

    Lea Powell Lea Powell 5:15 pm 19 Apr 21

    Jenny McInnes sure, however, in my twenty plus years as a tenant, I have seen a lot and have experienced a lot too. I don’t have an issue with the fact that maintaining 13,000 tenancies is hard, but funding does not seem to be the greatest issue. I think we are now seeing the results of a neoliberalist approach of stalling numbers at 12,700 properties, plus the sell off of far too many properties and the Scrooge decision to not maintain properties sufficiently all coming together into a mighty tornado of disaster, at the same time that we have the most phenomenal housing growth and investor housing growth ( all of which drive rents and house prices up dramatically. ).

    Yes, we desperately need to raise the number of properties available, but we need the federal government to make fiscal policy that supports these families moving on as well, because without that we are back at what happened

    Prior to WW2.

    We can’t have both, but we also need what we do have to work and work well, which it currently doesn’t.

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