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Canberra Today 7°/10° | Sunday, August 14, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Community groups rail against ‘cruel’ evictions

Digital mischief: Paul Costigan

“Ministers Vassarotti and Berry and Housing ACT are happy to continue with a process of evictions that lacks transparency and is causing deep distress to many older people. To others what they are witnessing is a campaign of government-sanctioned terror,” says “Canberra Matters” columnist PAUL COSTIGAN.

EARLIER this year 330 Housing ACT tenants received the same soulless unsigned eviction notice. 

This robotic-bureaucratic deadpan letter was sent to the selected tenants with no thought of what effect it would have on people’s mental and physical health. The last six months have been hell for many of these people. 

Recently the two eviction ministers, Rebecca Vassarotti and Yvette Berry, had a piece of praise about their program published in local media. This was a more robotic callous spin. This is their new normal. They use the press to publish disingenuous disinformation whenever they are questioned about their cruel and heartless program of evictions.

On March 30 the North Canberra Community Council (NCCC) wrote to the eviction ministers about a series of issues and proposed an alternative approach to the evictions. The ministers had a bureaucrat write to the NCCC using bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo saying nothing about the issues raised. 

The bureaucrat was reminded that their letter was sent to the ministers Rebecca Vassarotti and Yvette Berry and that the NCCC awaited their responses.

In early July, the NCCC received a letter from the ministers. Not surprisingly in the era of autocratic government, their robo-letter also did not address the issues raised. It was verbose marketing justifying why they were ruthlessly pursuing the involuntary removal of older people.

On Tuesday evening (July 12), the Inner South Canberra Community Council (ISCCC) held a well-attended forum to discuss the dreadful ACT government evictions. 

One mid-ranking Housing ACT executive attended to represent the eviction ministers. The other speakers were Dr Emma Campbell, CEO ACTCOSS; Jon Stanhope, former chief minister; Dr Khalid Ahmed, specialist on housing data and ACT financial arrangements, and Dr David Denham, of the Griffith Narrabundah Community Association.

There was a stark contrast between the government’s bland justification for the cruelty being handed out and the other speakers’ passions for transparency, justice, fairness and concerns for human beings. 

Gauging by the letters received by others and the ISCCC presentation on Tuesday night, Housing ACT is led by “thought leaders” (think CIT new management) who speak their own language and believe that the rest of us do not know how to manage stuff. We should shut up and let them get on with things no matter how cruel and wrong their actions are.

The other four presenters had a different take on Housing ACT – with its outstanding failures, its mismanagement of the portfolio of houses, its cruel behaviour towards tenants, and that these heartless actions are being carried out with the encouragement of both ACT Labor and the ACT Greens.

On the night, Vassarotti and Shane Rattenbury (who often attend ISCCC meetings) found they had other important stuff to do. They left their thought leader executive to present on this thoroughly horrible program. He failed to convince me.

As Stanhope mused, when first presented with this plan of evicting mainly older people from their homes, did the ACT Greens think that this was a great idea? One wonders what the ACT Greens and their so-called community partners stand for in 2022. Trust in the ACT Greens and those community organisations that are assisting with these evictions is not high.

Figures presented on the night illustrated how the ACT was going backwards on social housing per head of population. This “Greenslabor” government regularly announces generous budgets for allocations of social housing – with only a fraction of this is being spent. Rhetoric does not match the reality – part of building the better farce.

This data makes it clear why they are wanting to shove people and their possessions out the door. They need these sales to partly substitute for the millions not being spent. Local developers are doing well out of the subsequent high-priced developments (forget affordable housing). In the end this program of housing sales and forced evictions will deliver almost no growth in the number of social housing in Canberra.

Southside residents have embraced their social-housing neighbours. There used to be many housing tenants in these suburbs. Residents have been left wondering where so many of these people have gone. Possibly thousands were moved out of blocks of units now bulldozed and rebuilt as expensive apartments to be sold commercially (forget affordable housing). Despite promises made, there is no social housing allocated within the new apartment complexes being built on former social-housing sites. 

Stanhope wondered how such a program of cruelty towards older tenants, many being women, is not being more widely criticised by the Canberra community. It seems that thanks to the disinformation campaigns, residents have accepted that governments can be nasty to those not so well off – in many cases older and disadvantaged.

Ministers Vassarotti and Berry and Housing ACT are happy to continue with a process of evictions that lacks transparency and is causing deep distress to many older persons. To others what they are witnessing is a campaign of government-sanctioned terror.

Given that they have been successful at suppressing information and shutting down objections to their insensitive behaviours, what will this disconnected Greenslabor government do next? 

Will there be Housing ACT awards handed out to the two ministers and their community partners for their robo-eviction successes?

Big thanks to the ISCCC. The presentations were powerful stuff, especially how people are being misled and the harm being done – unnecessarily. The recording of the session is available on youtube – with the eviction presentations commencing at about 28 minutes.

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Paul Costigan

Paul Costigan

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10 Responses to Community groups rail against ‘cruel’ evictions

Greg Hollands says: July 14, 2022 at 1:59 pm

Well done Paul, please keep calling out these heartless decisions that impact significantly on these tenants. How would the respective ministers feel if they received such a letter from their own landlord – oh that’s right – they probably own their own homes on the back of their grandiose salaries!

Reply
DCH says: July 14, 2022 at 2:52 pm

I thought it was quite deceitful of the Inner South Canberra Community Council to hold a meeting on social housing, invite multiple speakers to discuss it and then end with their own tirade against it – without once disclosing that they are currently suing ACT housing in ACAT to stop two social housing projects in their suburbs.

David Denhams slide showing that the ISCCC want all future social housing in towers (away from the leafy inner south) just demonstrates how mean spirited and deceitful the organisation that claims to represent residents, has become.

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Barbara Moore says: July 14, 2022 at 4:31 pm

Please check your facts. This response is incorrect in every detail. The deceit and lack of transparency emanates from government process. Residents of the Inner South attended government meetings which promised public social housing near shopping centres in the new developments at Griffith, Red Hill, Manuka and Kingston. Over years not one apartment was made available. If you lived near the previous Fraser Court in Kingston as I do, it was obvious that over a period of 5 years it was deliberately run down to enable the site to be redeveloped. Clearly in our Inner South Canberra District Planning Strategy is included community support for social housing. We are extremely concerned for the residents of the Causeway, already targeted to go – but where? Housing ACT has its own “area” map which has Kingston located in Woden Area. I am supporting an Exemption Application which should never have been required. The ISCCC meeting was on public social housing and a policy needing amendment and a process of victimisation which should be stopped.

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David Denham says: July 14, 2022 at 8:23 pm

DCH should get his/her facts right. GNCA is not suing ACT Housing. We are asking the ACAT to review ACTPLA’s decision to approve three supportive houses in an RZ1 zone because we contend this proposal does not comply with the Territory Plan.

The ISCCC tried to persuade the government to include public housing in the re-development of the Stuart Street Flats, Gowrie Court and the Red Hill public housing complex. However, not one of the 362 public housing dwellings that were there, were replaced in the re-developments. The developers resisted incorporating any public housing in the re-developments and the government endorsed this stance because it thought the sale price of the blocks would be lower.

The point I was making is that we need more than a scattergun approach for public housing using blocks in the RZ1 zones to solve the shortage in public housing. We need a more concentrated effort to develop public housing near Group and Local Centres. Building supportive housing for the disabled on sites that are than 600 meters from any shops is just bad planning.

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Mike of Canberra says: July 14, 2022 at 8:52 pm

There was nothing deceitful at all about the ISCCC presentation last Tuesday evening. What is deceitful is your comment on this article. First, nowhere in his presentation did David Denham suggest that all public housing tenants should be dispatched to towers. If you had read it correctly, he was asking why there was no allocation of public housing in the new private developments replacing the Stuart Flats, Gowrie Court, and the Red Hill Flats. We know why don’t we? Mr Barr’s developer mates would not be able to sell their apartments if there was public housing incorporated into these developments. What a disgraceful misrepresentation this is on your part.

Second, ISCCC is not suing Housing ACT. The Griffith Narrabundah Community Association is challenging two development applications in Griffith and Narrabundah that squash far too many shoddily built supportive housing units on to one block, in contravention of the planning regulations and also imposing a very poor standard of living on these tenants – yet another disgraceful misrepresentation from you.

You should note that Dr Emma Campbell, the CEO of ACTCOSS, was also of a similar mind concerning the poor distribution of supportive housing in the inner south, saying that she had a different definition of “salt and pepper” from Housing ACT.

Dr Denham further questioned the overcrowding of certain streets with this supportive housing, creating ghettos instead of more fairly and equitably distributing such housing. I suggest you go back and properly examine his presentation.

Your denigration of inner south residents disgusts me. It does nothing to address the serious problems this city is facing with the poor management of its public housing estate.

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Paul Russell says: July 15, 2022 at 12:08 am

DCH tirade on Dr David Denham AM, who spoke at the ISCCC Public Forum on Social Housing in Canberra is very, very misleading.

Based on Denham’s informed, articulate and objective presentation on Tuesday evening, DCH has elected to simply not listen or engage with the content Denham was presenting. I find DHC comments disrespectful, deceptive and very creative. Simply lacking any credibility.

Denham’s succinct and salient presentation was well researched, evidence based, informative and balanced. Dr Denham expressed deep concern for prospective social housing tenants across the nation’s capital as being treated like second class citizens in dwellings that afforded no green space, little sunlight and substantial overcrowding that no Canberran should have to endure. I am very disappointed in Housing ACT and ACTPLA on this important community issue.

I applaud Dr Denham’s position and the ISCCC for highlighting and progressing the debate.

Perhaps DCH’s time would be better spent on cold Canberra evenings further pursuing his/her interest in fairy tales or creative writing?

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Marea Fatseas says: July 15, 2022 at 3:56 pm

It’s a shame that DCH has chosen not to identify themselves while making factually incorrect statements. As other respondents have indicated, the ISCCC, of which I am Chair, is not suing ACT Housing. It is also not correct to say that the ISCCC wants “all future social housing in towers (away from the leafy inner south)”. As the ISCCC’s Inner South Canberra District Strategy (2021) says in the section on proposed actions for A Diverse Canberra: “Social housing to be integrated throughout all the suburbs with a focus on construction of individual dwellings, group homes or small townhouse developments to assist in meeting the special needs of those that are most disadvantaged in the community.” In addition, it says: “A mix of social and private housing to be provided in the East Lake urban renewal area.” See the Strategy at: https://www.isccc.org.au/isccc/wp-content/uploads/Inner-South-Canberra-District-Planning-Strategy-ISCCC-2021.pdf

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Gina Dow says: July 21, 2022 at 10:07 pm

Not everyone is against the relocation program. There are beautiful detached government townhouses all over Ainslie. (Some would even house YVL’s grand piano.) Tenants won’t be “dispatched to apartment towers” if they agree to move to a townhouse in their suburb. I expect some of the tenants holding out to stay in their $1.6 million houses on large blocks have been made very reasonable offers. They should appreciate the privilege of being able to live this expensive suburb when the average private renter couldn’t afford to rent here.

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