“Ministers Yvette Berry and Rebecca Vassarotti are unrelentingly determined to evict widows from their homes and the security of their neighbourhoods, refusing to let these people live out their leases.” It’s shameful. It’s “Seven Days” with IAN MEIKLE.
HERE’S a number that should disgust you. It disgusts me: 87 per cent of the 340 Housing ACT tenants facing eviction from their inner-city homes are women living alone or with children.
These are the people affected by the ACT government’s heartless, involuntary relocation program of, largely, frightened and vulnerable women, who have lived in their community housing homes for up to five decades. The government is aching to sell the properties, so threadbare is its mismanaged Budget.
The tenants are mostly over 50 (83 per cent), with 35 per cent of them over 70. Are you getting the picture?
Ministers Yvette Berry (Housing) and Rebecca Vassarotti (Homelessness) are unrelentingly determined to evict widows from their homes and the security of their neighbourhoods, refusing to let these people live out their lease.
Canberra Community Law has collected the data, which also revealed that 61 per cent of the tenants have physical or psychological disabilities, chronic health conditions or are caring for dependents; 17 per cent are single mothers with dependent children; and 14 per cent identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.
“It is this cross section of elderly tenants, women, people with disabilities and people with lived experience of mental illness that makes this group of tenants particularly vulnerable,” the ministers have been told in an open letter from 13 community organisations (and one Labor ex-chief minister, Jon Stanhope) working with vulnerable Canberrans living in ACT public housing.
Here are the names of the brave community leaders prepared to put their names to the open letter and stand up for these vulnerable people:
- Genevieve Bolton, executive director, Canberra Community Law
- Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS
- Carmel Franklin, director, Care Financial Counselling Service Inc
- Elena Rosenman, CEO, Women’s Legal Centre ACT
- Agata Pukiewicz, principal solicitor, Care Consumer Law
- Joel Dignam, executive director, Better Renting
- Bec Cody, CEO, Mental Health Community Coalition ACT
- Nicolas Lawler, CEO, Advocacy for Inclusion
- Jenny Mobbs, CEO, COTA ACT
- Dalane Drexler, CEO, ACT Mental Health Consumer Network Inc.
- Cheryl O’Donnell, CEO Canberra PCYC Inc.
- Kerry Weste, President, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
- Julie Tongs, CEO, Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services
I say “brave” because this government can be vindictive to organisations that oppose it and, I imagine, there would have been others too timid to risk the wrath of the high-income, London Circuit progressives.
I’m going to let them write the rest of my column: “We are alarmed at the impact of the ACT government’s Growth and Renewal Program on vulnerable Canberrans living in ACT public housing and are writing to urge you to end all forced relocations under the scheme and instead revert to a voluntary, opt-in program of relocation.
“While we all acknowledge the acute need for more public housing, we are of the strong view that forcibly relocating vulnerable tenants threatens to cause significant harm to these individuals and is not an acceptable way to raise revenue.
“Collectively we have heard from many affected individuals who have expressed real distress at the prospect of being forcibly relocated from their homes.
“Many of these people are long-term tenants (most have lived in their homes for more than a decade, and many for two, three and some for four and even five) with strong connections to their homes and communities.
“They have raised families and built communities in and around their homes. For many, they were told by Housing ACT that this was their ‘home for life’. The prospect of now being forced to leave has led to distress, anxiety, and confusion.
“Tenants affected by the Growth and Renewal Program have spoken at length about their fear that being forced to leave their home will not only remove them from the safety and comfort of their house, but also take them away from this network of supports that they rely on.
“Many tenants affected by the Growth and Renewal Program have reported finding out that they may be forced to relocate via an unsigned letter left at their home.
“They have not been given timeframes, processes through which to apply for exemptions or appeal decisions, or any certainty about where Housing ACT proposes to rehouse them. This lack of information has caused an enormous amount of distress and feelings of being disrespected and powerless.
“It is our collective experience that a safe, secure place to call home is critical to people’s wellbeing and ability to live fulfilled and happy lives. “Given the age, needs, abilities and vulnerabilities of these tenants; forcing them out of their homes risks causing them significant hardship and very real harm.
“We know from our experiences with members of the community over the years that there are public housing tenants who are willing and able to relocate if offered a suitable, alternative property to live in.
“These are the people who the ACT government should be approaching – not unwilling, elderly and vulnerable tenants with well-established social supports and family networks in their existing community.
“For these reasons, we urge the ACT government to redesign the Growth and Renewal program as a voluntary opt-in relocation program, which incorporates the key elements of tenant consultation and engagement with clear processes and timeframes and abandon elements that rely on forced relocation.”
HERE’S Yvette van Loo, the face of an imperilled public housing tenant. The 74-year old Ainslie grandmother was featured in “CityNews” on March 24 threatened by Housing ACT with eviction from her home of 40 years.
In April she wrote to Housing Minister Berry saying: “Targeting old and/or disabled people and forcing them out of their homes is an act of unbelievably unethical cruelty.
“The most surprising thing is that such a barbaric attitude should come from a Labor government, seconded by the Greens.
“Madam, reconsider your decisions before it is too late. Some old people like myself might not survive this assault.”
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Ian Meikle, editor