Most Canberrans would be horrified to see the state of many ACT public housing properties, and the ACT Government hasn’t done anything to fix them, the Canberra Liberals claim.
Housing ACT had received more than 1,100 complaints related to maintenance and property condition, Mark Parton, Shadow Minister for Housing, said in April. But public housing tenants felt ignored and helpless when they sought help.
He spoke of elderly tenants fearing assault because their locks had not been fixed, of ceilings collapsed due to water damage, of lights cutting out when it rained, of tenants unable to prepare food for weeks because their cooking appliances had failed, and of severe mould infestations causing skin conditions or forcing tenants to move out.
Canberra’s high density public housing complex, Kanangra Court, Reid, is unliveable, Liberals leader Elizabeth Lee said; the flats are full of mould, there are dead birds in the roof cavities, and maggots are falling from the ceiling.
“It is extremely disappointing and concerning to see houses in the ACT in this condition,” Ms Lee said. “It is even more concerning that both Housing Ministers seem completely uninterested in fixing them.”
Ms Lee said she wrote to Rebecca Vassarotti, Minister for Homelessness and Housing Services, on 15 February, asking for the government to fix Kanangra Court.
Yvette Berry, Minister for Housing and Suburban Development, responded on 17 March that the government was looking into the issue.
On 5 May, Ms Lee sent a follow-up letter, asking why the government had taken no action.
Yesterday, 8 June, the Canberra Liberals issued a media release in which Ms Lee said she had not yet had a reply to her letter of a month before.
“It has now been 120 days since I personally wrote to the Minister for Housing Services, and still no action has been taken,” Ms Lee said. “It appears when it comes to public housing properties in the ACT, this government simply does not care.”
Later that morning (8 June), Ms Berry sent a response to Ms Lee, saying that the issue was still being looked into.
“Long-term residents of Kanangra Court have raised these issues with Housing ACT for three years,” Ms Lee said. “While they are being told that it is being dealt with, no action is being taken to bring these houses up to a safe standard of living.”
Mr Parton said that Labor and the Greens had blocked the Canberra Liberals’ calls for an urgent repair and upgrade program, and rejected every accountability measure his party had put forward.
“These are some of our most vulnerable Canberrans, and they cannot continue to be left behind by this government.”
In April, Mr Parton took a motion to the Legislative Assembly that the ACT Government should resolve all significant public housing maintenance requests (including health and safety defects), allocating enough funds to do so by the end of August.
Ms Berry amended Mr Parton’s motion; she removed the call to provide funds by August, and to “commit to a program to determine the actions and work required to rectify all dwellings that are in breach of, or below health and safety standards”. Instead, the ACT Government would “reaffirm its commitment that all public housing dwellings meet health and safety standards”.
Moreover, Ms Berry proclaimed, the ACT Government had embarked on the biggest investment of public housing in Australia. It would invest $1 billion over 10 years to grow and renew public housing, and $40 million every year to maintain public housing properties. Ms Berry predicted that by 2025, there would be a 20% renewal in public housing stock: 1,400 “new, modern, efficient” properties, including 400 extra homes for those in need.
But Mr Parton was not impressed. He found Ms Berry’s amendment unacceptable – “and it will not be acceptable to those tenants who are currently living in substandard circumstances and are on many occasions risking their health and safety.”
Yesterday, Mr Parton once more called on the government to resolve all significant public housing maintenance requests as quickly as possible.
A spokesperson from Housing Minister Yvette Berry said “Housing ACT works hard to ensure that public housing tenants live in safe, secure and well maintained homes”.
“Currently there are no requests for maintenance that have been raised against these issues. However, Housing ACT is aware of the ongoing presence of pigeons at the complex and as a result, ongoing maintenance including pest control measures such as pigeon eradication, is conducted on an annual basis,” the spokesperson said.
“Housing ACT requires specific unit numbers to raise work orders so pest control and mould remediation sub-contractors can address these concerns.
“Tenants are encouraged to raise any maintenance issues with Programmed. Housing ACT seeks to work directly with tenants to resolve any maintenance issues.
“Safety, security, and liveability related works are prioritised,” the spokesperson said.