Open Letter – Calls for the ACT Government to end forced relocations
9 May 2022
Dear Ministers Berry and Vassarotti,
Minister for Housing and Minister for Homelessness and Housing Services
We represent a breadth of community sector organisations working with vulnerable Canberrans living in ACT public housing. Collectively, we are responsible for advocating for the interests of Canberrans living on low incomes, with disabilities, mental illness, who are elderly, experiencing or at risk of homelessness and have experienced family violence.
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.
It is also important to ensure that public housing continues to be spread across Canberra.
Who is Affected?
Below is a snapshot of data Canberra Community Law has collected which shows the demographics of the tenants affected by the Growth and Renewal Program.
- 83% are over 50 years old;
- 61% are over 60 years old; and
- 35% are over 70 years old.
- 87% are women living alone or with children;
- 61% have physical or psychological disabilities, chronic health conditions, or are caring for dependents within the household who do;
- 17% are single mothers with dependent children; and.
- 14% 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.
A Place to Call Home
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.
Many of our clients have modified their homes over the years to suit their changing mobility and accessibility needs. They have set up their homes with the view of ageing at home and living independently for as long as possible.
Having a safe, stable, and familiar place to call home is essential for all of our emotional well-being – but it is particularly important for many of our clients who are facing additional mental health challenges, trauma, and distress in their lives. Tenants affected by the Growth and Renewal Program have reported having to seek additional mental health support after receiving ACT Government correspondence about the prospect of being forced to move. They have also experienced sleeplessness and acute anxiety.
As you are aware, many of the people with whom we work rely on a number of both formal and informal community-based supports and programs. These range from having long term trusted medical providers in the local area to informal supports at the local chemist or shops, right through to family members moving into the neighbourhood to provide day to day physical and/or emotional support.
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.
Confusion and Uncertainty
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.
A Voluntary, Opt-in Relocation Program
It is our collective experience that a safe, secure place to call home is critical to peoples’ welling and ability to live fulfilled and happy lives. Many tenants affected by the Growth and Renewal Program have reported having this in their current Housing ACT properties. 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 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.
We would welcome an opportunity to discuss this critical issue with you further at your earliest convenience.
Genevieve Bolton, Executive Director / Principal Solicitor, Canberra Community Law
Dr Emma Campbell, Chief Executive Officer, ACTCOSS
Ms Carmel Franklin, Director, Care Financial Counselling Service Inc
Ms Elena Rosenman, CEO, Women’s Legal Centre ACT
Ms Agata Pukiewicz, Principal Solicitor, Care Consumer Law
Mr Joel Dignam, Executive Director, Better Renting
Ms Bec Cody, Chief Executive Officer, Mental Health Community Coalition ACT
Mr Nicolas Lawler, Chief Executive Officer, Advocacy for Inclusion – Incorporating People with Disabilities ACT
Ms Jenny Mobbs, Chief Executive Officer, Council on the Aging ACT
Dalane Drexler, Chief Executive Officer, 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 (Strong Health) Aboriginal Health and Community Services
Jon Stanhope, Former ACT Chief Minister