|The ACT did the right thing
relocating public housing tenants
|Published 10th October 2020.|
|Back in 2015, the ACT Government announced their intention to relocate almost 1,400 public housing tenants in the ACT and demolish the 14 blocks of apartments on each set of land.
The land was to be sold and redeveloped to make way for the Light Rail construction project and gain access to federal funds under the asset recycling program.
Strathgordon Court, one of the fourteen properties demolished
There was a secondary reason to demolish these properties though, one spoken about slightly less openly in the shiny press announcements. These 14 blocks in particular were the largest, most run down and effectively all mini ghettoes.
Riddled with crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and housing many tenants with mental illness as well as being very poorly maintained, these blocks were the worst ACT Housing accommodation you could end up with anywhere in Canberra.
How do I know this so well? I lived in one of the blocks that was slated for demolition for a bit over 6 years, until finally being relocated in 2018.
I saw firsthand the problems of stacking 100 or more of the most complex needs public housing tenants on top of each other without adequate community supports. I suffered firsthand the crime and vandalism that is, or was, a daily part of life in those apartments.
Myself and other tenants used to literally beg and plead with ACT Housing officials to do something about the myriad of problems present back then, but I found it took literal news articles shaming ACT Housing over particular situations to get any real response from them at the time.
I suffered all kinds of improprieties and abuse or violence as part and parcel of living at one of these blocks. The 14 flats targeted in the scheme were very unsafe places to live for many of its residents.
Although every set of flats had a substantial number of tenants committing crimes or terrorising other tenants, they also had a substantial portion of tenants just trying to do the right thing and getting on with their lives.
However it was almost impossible to maintain a normal life in the midst of the chaos that often enveloped these flats in particular. That is not to say there were not issues at other ACT Housing locations as well, there were and are, but these 14 flats were the largest and by far the worst.
The ACT Government copped a lot of criticism over the last 5 years for this policy, starting almost immediately after it was announced and continuing in the forms of resident action groups opposed to tenants being relocated to their suburbs in later years.
The ACT Government did the right thing by seeing this program through. Despite all the criticism along the way, this was a necessary and complex program to have initiated but will pay dividends for decades to comes as a result.
Forming mini ghettoes of severely disadvantaged tenants all in the one spot without resources, is the worst possible way you can house public housing tenants.
The Salt & Pepper approach the ACT Government took as it was called, cause much consternation but is the socially conscious way of doing things. Whilst there have been major teething issues as a direct result of the relocations, the current reality is still preferable to the way things were.
By spreading housing tenants evenly throughout the community instead of clustering them, you drastically reduce the multiplier effect of many mentally ill or drug addicted clients right on top of each other.
You give all the tenants a chance to be part of a normal community, not just some out of sight, out of mind dumping ground for tenants in need.
Whilst the Canberra Liberals and others have oft claimed that this program was only done to sell off prime land to pay for the light rail, it is not the only reason it was done and for most of those relocated, that element of it is not relevant.
There remains major issues with ACT Housing management, property allocation, funding and more aside which still need to be addressed, however this program was the fundamental foundation stone needed to build on in order to progress on the issue of quality housing for all public housing tenants.
The ACT Greens policy proposal for $450 million over four years to tackle homelessness, $200 million of which is earmarked for expansion of the Housing stock of properties, is a solid next step for the ACT to take now.
If Labor wins Government again and can be convinced of the merits of the Greens proposal that is. The ACT can and should do better on public housing, with the impetus of the ACT Greens we just might get there.
|The ACT did the right thing relocating public housing tenants by Chris Mordd Richards is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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