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Widow’s words to the minister: ‘You are heartless’

From left, Jane Fordyce, Magda, her son Andrew Wilkinson and David Fordyce… “The neighbours I have are unbelievable. Every day I thank God for them,” says Magda. Photo: Belinda Strahorn

THE neighbours of an elderly Canberra widow have spoken out against her forced eviction under a controversial public-housing relocation scheme.

David and Jane Fordyce, who have lived next door to Magda for more than 30 years, are facing the prospect of losing their “surrogate grandmother” to the ACT government’s “Growth and Renewal” program in which 340 housing tenants, mainly women, are to be involuntarily relocated.

The Macquarie residents are coming to terms with the fact that their neighbour – who has been an adopted grandmother to their five children – will soon be evicted from her home of more than three decades, leaving behind a lifetime of shared memories.

“We have been living next door to each other for 31 years,” said David.

“My mum is in Melbourne and Jane’s mum died 22 years ago, so Magda has become a grandmother to our children. They have known her since they were newborns… she’s a part of our family.”

Not only has Magda, 84, raised two children of her own in the home she must vacate, she has also buried family pets in the backyard making her departure all the more difficult.

“My home is everything to me, it’s my life, it’s where I feel comfortable,” Magda said.

“‘This is your home until you die’, that’s what I was told when I moved in.”

According to data collected by Canberra Community Law, 87 per cent of the 340 Housing ACT tenants facing eviction from their inner-city homes are women living alone or with children.

The tenants are mostly over 50 (83 per cent), with 35 per cent of them over 70, and 61 per cent of tenants have chronic health conditions, physical or psychological disabilities or are caring for dependents who do.

For Magda – who emigrated to Australia from Argentina more than half a century ago – the move means she will be separated from the network of support she has come to rely on over the years.

“The neighbours I have are unbelievable,” said Magda.

“Every day I thank God for them because they are my family. They help me a lot and are fantastic support.”

In February, Housing ACT sent more than 300 letters to public-housing tenants informing them they will be moved to a new public-housing property because their homes had been earmarked for sale or redevelopment.

Tenants were previously told that the program would be on a voluntary basis.

Reflecting on the moment the life-changing letter arrived, Magda said:

“It was a nightmare, I couldn’t sleep, I was worrying a lot knowing I would lose my beautiful neighbours and friends.”

The retired embassy worker didn’t spare the government in her criticism of the scheme, condemning the insensitive way in which the policy was being enforced.

“You are heartless, you are cruel,” said Magda.

“I wrote to the Housing Minister [Yvette Berry] and I’ve had no reply. 

“I don’t think the human factor has meaning for her. For some reason it’s only about the money they will get from the land, which seems to be worth a lot.”

The Fordyce family – who were emotional at the thought of losing their neighbour and friend – said the trauma of relocating Magda was unnecessary, arguing that she ought to be able to remain in her home to see out her time.

“These people are not in big houses, the government does not spend a lot on them. They should just wait and do it as a voluntary process. It would be much more orderly,” said David.

“At first, I was angry and now I feel worried for people like Magda who are living in fear of what is going to happen to them… that’s a really terrible thing,” Jane said. 

Magda’s son Andrew Wilkinson, who has many happy memories of living in the house, said a lot of the family’s questions about Magda’s impending relocation have gone unanswered. 

“There’s a lack of clarity, and a lack of information as to why they are doing this?,” Andrew said. “It’s been a really stressful time.”

In response to community concern over the way the scheme has been implemented, a group of organisations – in an open letter to minister Berry and Rebecca Vassarotti (Homelessness Minister) – have called on the ACT government to abandon non-voluntary relocations.

“I am very disappointed and sad for myself and all the people who are suffering at the moment,” Magda said. 

“The Labor I thought I knew, and I voted for, wouldn’t have done this.”

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Belinda Strahorn

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4 Responses to Widow’s words to the minister: ‘You are heartless’

Hamba says: June 1, 2022 at 10:59 am

“The Labor I thought I knew, and I voted for, wouldn’t have done this.” My heart breaks for Magda, but the Labor she voted for is precisely who is doing this. And nearly everyone who reads this article will still cast a vote for Labor and/or the Greens in the 2024 election too. That’s how they get away with things like this.

peter o'brien says: June 2, 2022 at 1:15 pm

Homelessness, unemployment and poverty are cornerstones of the ‘democratic’ capitalist system. The proof is there but common sense and humanity are no part of economic rationalism. It is both cruel and economically counter productive.

Hester W says: June 3, 2022 at 10:45 pm

Sorry, but single tenants need to downsize and make room for a family. The issue is the lack of planning for tenants to stay in their local area. Perhaps one of her adopted families could organise a granny flat for her – perhaps Housing might find it.


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