ACT government to relocate 337 public housing tenants | The Canberra Times

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When Rowan Element moved into a Wanniassa house almost 40 years ago, she was told it would be a “home for life”. But now it could be taken away from her after she received an unsigned letter last week to inform her she could be moved. Housing ACT has sent more than 300 letters to public housing tenants informing them they will be moved to a new public housing property as part of the territory government’s growth and renewal program. For Ms Element, it will mean moving out of the only real home she has ever known – a home she has lived in for more than half her life. When she moved into the house in 1983, she was a single mother with two children – a newborn son and a six-year-old daughter. Over the years, she has worked to develop a forest-like garden, created an art studio and learned how to mix concrete and lay carpet. She has created countless memories and celebrated a number of milestones. Tragically it’s also been a place of mourning. When her son died 10 years ago, only days after his 30th birthday, his funeral was held at the Wanniassa home. “We all decided that what we wanted to do was celebrate his life [at the house] and not have some sterile religious service,” Ms Element said. “We organized for a cardboard coffin to be delivered… and so we set it up in the lounge room, and all of his friends, my friends, we all gathered and we came up, and everybody added something to the coffin, some people wrote songs or wrote poems, the entire coffin was painted. “Every part of the house he was here, every stage of his life … his spirit lives on in this house.” Ms Element said she received the letter from Housing ACT, dated February 21, last Thursday. She was shocked to find the letter and claimed it was at odds with previous communication she had with Housing ACT. She said she had previously been told the program was voluntary and she had made the decision that she did not want to move. The letter received last week was vague, it was titled “moving to your new home” but had no details about dates. It said a tenant relocation officer would be in touch with details but she has yet to receive any communication. “The first thing that struck me about this letter was that it appears to be a done deal,” Ms Element said. The Canberra Times has heard from several distressed tenants who have been upset with how the process and communication has been handled. The ACT Council of Social Service condemned the move by the territory government, labeling it as heartless. The advocacy organization said the 300 Housing ACT tenants included elderly people, people with disability and people with chronic health issues. ACTCOSS chief executive Emma Campbell has called for a complete review of the territory government’s growing and renewing public housing program. “To send these types of letters, without adequate support in place for tenants, is incredibly callous and cruel,” Dr Campbell said. “Community organisations, including community legal services, have been overwhelmed with calls from distressed tenants desperate for support to avoid eviction from their homes.” Dr Campbell said it was unclear what criteria had been used for determining which tenants would be moved on but suggested a common theme was the land value. “Many of these houses are perfectly adequate and have tenants who wish to remain in the property,” she said. “However, we do note that many of the properties happen to be located on high-value land.” MORE ACT POLITICS NEWS: The ACT government’s growth and renewal program is running over a 10-year period, set to finish in 2025, and will cost $1 billion. As part of the program, the territory government is selling off older properties to fund the construction of new public housing properties. An ACT government spokeswoman said there were 337 letters handed out to tenants last week as part of the program. The spokeswoman said while it was the preference of the government to allow tenants to voluntarily relocate, Housing ACT needed more people to be relocated to fully deliver the program. “Many tenants have already voluntarily chosen to relocate to new homes but more relocations are required to deliver the growing and renewing public housing program,” the spokeswoman said. “This means that some public housing tenants may be required to relocate so that the program can successfully deliver more and better public housing for more community members in need. This does not mean households will be evicted.” The spokeswoman said Housing ACT would work closely with tenants to find alternate housing and the timeline to move out differed case-by-case. But the she said if a tenant had refused all options to relocate that legal action would be taken as a “last resort”. Some tenants may be given an exemption from relocation in “extenuating circumstances”, including the tenant’s age, health and the intended outcome for the property. Of the 337 properties, 291 will be sold off by the government and 46 would be demolished and rebuilt. Opposition housing spokesman Mark Parton said he had heard distressing stories from many who had received letters. “Growth and renewal of the public housing stock is necessary but there are some very clear flaws in the process involving these 300-plus tenants and I would expect better from the Labor-Greens government,” Mr Parton said. For Ms Element, she wanted Housing ACT to know: “That they are dealing with people and homes, not dwellings based on the number of bedrooms that particular dwelling has.” Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:

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