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Canberra Today 2°/7° | Sunday, May 22, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

The shame of a government evicting poor people

Some digital mischief by Paul Costigan.

“To watch ministers Yvette Berry and Rebecca Vassarotti duck for cover behind meaningless bureaucrat spin is shameful. ACT politicians do not wish to be involved with residents feeling bullied by government processes,” writes “Canberra Matters” columnist PAUL COSTIGAN.

IT is beyond belief that in the 21st century a self-nominated progressive Labor/Greens coalition government sanctioned the eviction of its own social housing tenants. 

Paul Costigan.

With ministerial agreement, the government’s housing bureaucracy considered it acceptable to threaten housing tenants with eviction notices. 

The government used its usual banal talking points to claim it is about relocations. The reality is that further discussions were notional because the selected tenants were to be moved from their homes and go to another location – like it or not; it was a done deal.

Community groups expressed concern about the nasty nature of this process. People should not be forced to move if they do not wish to do so. 

The ACT Council of Social Services issued numerous statements on this matter signalling its disagreement with the process and refuting claims by the minister, Yvette Berry, that there had been meaningful consultations before these nasty letters were sent.

Last week ACTCOSS met with the government and was given a commitment that the program of evictions would be reviewed.

Weirdly, the government refused to look at the case studies presented by ACTCOSS. Instead the ministers involved, Yvette Berry and the ACT Greens’ Rebecca Vassarotti, insist that the tenants make direct contact with them.

A couple of tenants did this thinking that they would be discussing issues with one of these ministers. Instead their names were passed on to the bureaucrats responsible for the letters who have then directly contacted the tenants who were already fearful of these same bureaucrats. 

There is little doubt that the properties being targeted for clearances are those that are in high-value areas. The government wants to sell off housing and land where the sale prices will be highest. It is about the money – not people. 

This government is desperate for money to cover up its lack of financial commitment to social housing.

ACTCOSS is to be thanked for its advocacy and for pushing the government to reassess this program. It is right to ask that the process become an opt-in one. 

The program should be about working with those tenants who wish to be relocated once they agree to the style and the location of housing on offer. As for those who do not wish to move – leave them alone!

It is clear that there are fundamental problems with how the ACT’s Greens and Labor government politicians operate.

The situation in the ACT government is a rerun of ’80s BBC program “Yes, Minister”. The Housing bureaucracy knows how to manipulate their ministers to do what the chief bureaucrats know is best for the city. 

Politicians such as Yvette Berry and Rebecca Vassarotti have little expertise to deal with such seasoned bureaucrats. And the bureaucrats know how to say – Yes, Minister!

This bureaucracy got away with clearing out housing residents from the unit complexes along Northbourne, and in Griffith and Red Hill. They have transferred this process ruthlessly to those in homes identified as being in high-value suburban land – ideal for quick sales.

The nastiness of the program ignores the fact that some of these people wish to stay in their homes. These are homes that have been looked after by the tenants who are part of their local communities. 

This should not simply be about housing stock to be bought and sold by the bureaucracy desperately looking for some quick cash.

To watch Yvette Berry and Rebecca Vassarotti duck for cover behind meaningless bureaucrat spin is shameful. ACT politicians do not wish to be involved with residents feeling bullied by government processes.

These unsettling governance matters need to be addressed. This is not how democracy should be functioning.

In the shorter term we wish ACTCOSS all the best in getting the opt-in process immediately as being normal for how Housing ACT approaches tenants about whether they want to move.

There is no need for the bureaucracy to carry out a review of how it conducts itself. Yvette Berry and Rebecca Vassarotti could make this decision today. 

They could direct their bureaucrats to put in place an opt-in process immediately. 

It is what a humane government would do.

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Paul Costigan

Paul Costigan

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5 Responses to The shame of a government evicting poor people

PlainspeakingJane says: April 9, 2022 at 8:50 am

Spot on Paul. I can say from the perspective of one the tenants who has received these letters that it has been an extremely abusive process, disempowering, dishonest, inhumane and lacking transparency and extremely stressful and destabilising. The tenants living in these homes may have complex needs that underpinned their original applications for a housing property. Many are still living with those complex health, mental health and disadvantage but now are aging and so less empowered to fight the bureacracy. They are incredibly vulnerable. At no point in the past 18 months has anyone at Housing asked me what my needs are. I am being told that a nice new place (whatever and wherever it may be located) will be warmer and better for me. However, the spin does not stand up to reality. Aside from not asking tenants about their needs the renewed housing does not really meet the necessities and code of 21st Century living such as double-glassed windows, solar panels, air conditioning, grey water recycling. It is stereotypical housing for the disadvantaged. Giant unit blocks that will form the ghettoes of tomorrow. Politicians should remember that tenants, however they are viewed and treated, are still members of the voting public and the community and they will have long memories when it comes time to go to the next ballot box.

Hamba says: April 10, 2022 at 1:01 pm

Labor and the Greens aren’t worried. They know that the displaced, Mr Costigan, etc. will not be voting for the Liberals in the next election, and therefore there will still be a Labor/Greens government. So what’s the risk?

Rowan Element says: April 12, 2022 at 3:22 pm

Thank you Paul, thank you so much for this accurate article. I am one of the housing tenants affected by the forced relocation program, I am nearly 70 and have lived in my home for 38 years, the thought of moving devastates me. I raised my children here as a single parent, and have always looked after the property and paid my rent. My son passed away ten years ago, this was his home, this is where I keep his ashes and where his spirit lives on. I cannot even begin to think about how I would move. I have had one discussion with the housing relocation officers six weeks ago, when they told me as they were leaving that I would receive a phone call from one of them or their supervisor within a few days, and as yet I have heard nothing. So I live every day with this axe hanging over my head, in limbo, with no clear way to move forward.

YVETTE VAN LOO says: April 12, 2022 at 4:23 pm

Thank you, Paul, we are lucky that a few people like you still have their head on their shoulders in Canberra. I just sent an open letter to Berry on that shameful matter, which I hope will be soon published. Thank you

Ian Meikle says: April 12, 2022 at 4:48 pm

Here is Yvette’s open letter to Housing Minister Berry:

From Ms Yvette Van Loo, Housing Tenant

Canberra, April 12, 2022


I am in receipt of your letter dated March 28, 2022, replying to my letter of February 24, 2022, in which you state: “I was very sorry to hear of the circumstances outlined in your letter” and “I understand that moving can be an incredibly difficult time and you do not wish to relocate.”
Madam, I am not asking for you to commiserate with me on how incredibly difficult it is to be forcibly removed from my home (How would you know, anyhow?). I am asking you to put a stop to that nonsense.

Targeting old and/or disabled people and forcing them out of their homes is an act of unbelievably unethical cruelty.

The contempt Housing is showing towards its tenants is truly reflected in the “help” they offer to relocate people: a skip (since tenants only own rubbish, apparently) and up to 1750 dollars towards “utility connection fees, reconnection of existing services, and reasonable removalists’ expenses”. I wonder what “reasonable removalists’ expenses” means? Leave most of your possessions behind in the skips so generously provided? This sum would not actually cover half of any “reasonable” moving expenses incurred by even the poorest tenants, which means you expect old people to part with and leave behind (in the said generously provided skips) most of their precious possessions and lifetime memories.

What psychological effects, what profound traumas do you think this would entail for the “relocated” tenants?

You also state: “The Growing and Renewing Public Housing Program is an initiative imperative to ensuring the longevity of the Territory’s public housing stock and ability to provide increased social housing assistance.”

According to She/her Adriana Boisen, advisor to Rebecca Vassarotti, the other Minister for Housing (why having two ministers for Housing will remain forever a mystery to me) in a letter dated 18 March 2022,”the Public Housing Growth and Renewal Program has seen an investment of over 1billion dollars by the ACT Government.”

I would dare suppose that this large sum of money is meant to be spent on building new homes and maintaining old ones and is highly sufficient to do so, but I wonder whether too much of it is not being syphoned towards bureaucratic purposes? How much does the implementation of such a programme actually cost?

I suggest that this sum is more than sufficient to answer the present and future needs of Housing without its old tenants being the object of forced relocation.

The most surprising thing is that such barbaric attitude should come from a Labor government seconded by the Greens. I fail to find any trace of Labor and/or Greens principles in such undemocratic actions.

Madam, reconsider your decisions before it is too late. Some old people like myself might not survive this assault.

There is so much misery happening in the world right now, don’t add to it, even if our plight can seem minor compared to others.

Yvette Van Loo
74 years old
Housing Tenant for 40 years


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