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ACT families live in 'third world' housing

Shane Rattenbury.

Shane Rattenbury. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Indigenous Canberra families with young children have been living in community housing described as unsafe, "Third World" and worse than accommodation found in remote communities.

ACT Housing planned to meet with one family, who have broken asbestos sheeting in their laundry, on Monday to offer them alternative accommodation, but the tenants spent the weekend in the house.

Another family, also living in one of seven houses owned by the Southside Housing Aboriginal Corporation, have holes in the floor of their bathroom and en suite, and builders and real estate agents have deemed the homes, both in Canberra's south, uninhabitable.

The corporation said until ACT Housing stepped in to do basic repairs on the first home in March, it had a stove-top hotplate which could not be turned off, no working ceiling lights, dripping taps and mould growing throughout the house.

An independent builder found the broken asbestos sheeting in the laundry of that house on Wednesday, and advised the room should be sealed shut to contain it.

ACT Housing Minister Shane Rattenbury said the government spent

$5500 on urgent plumbing, electrical, glazing and carpentry repair works on the house because it posed an unacceptable safety and health risks to the tenants.

"They were serious safety issues and they needed to be dealt with immediately, which is why Housing ACT did them, despite the properties not being our responsibility," he said.

But he said when ACT Housing staff inspected the houses in March they did not find any broken asbestos.

A spokesman for Southside Housing Aboriginal Corporation, the independent organisation that owns the properties, said the tenants at the first property wanted to leave for the sake of their health.

Darren Williams, who joined the volunteer-run organisation at the end of last year, said he understood the houses had fallen into disrepair after the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, which had provided funding for the houses, was disbanded in 2005.

He said no alternative funding had been offered and the corporation, which was under administration between 2004 and 2006, had not had the money or experience to look after the properties.

Previous board members had applied unsuccessfully for funding, and very little maintenance work had been done on the houses for years, he said.

"We don't have people in remote areas living like some of these people," he said.

"I've lived on missions and I've lived in indigenous communities and I've never seen anything this bad."

The federal government has a caveat over the properties, which means the corporation cannot sell them without seeking permission.

Mr Williams said he had approached staff at the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to discuss selling the two properties, so his organisation could use the money to maintain its other five houses.

He said the corporation also had a significant water bill, incurred from dripping taps in all seven houses.

Mr Williams said he was working on policy documents for the corporation to try to prevent the problems arising again.

Mr Rattenbury said the ACT Commissioner for Social Housing exercised some controls over registered community housing providers through national legislation, but the corporation was not a registered Community Housing provider and was controlled by the federal government.

He said the other five house owned by the corporation were run down but did not present the same urgent safety concerns.

A spokesperson from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs had become aware of the poor conditions of the houses and raised its concerns with ACT government officials.


  • I've got news for you - it isn't just the indigenous people living in such conditions. the problem is far more wide spread then what this article is saying.

    the combination of poor quality housing (both public and private), high rental costs, high energy costs and risign living costs are making more and more people (regardless of heritage) live in third world conditions.

    is this something any government is proud of?

    so much for the lucky country.......

    Date and time
    June 17, 2013, 8:47AM
    • So true.

      Real 2nd Class ACT Citizen
      Date and time
      June 17, 2013, 9:49AM
    • @gg "so much for the lucky country"

      Pfft. I've been very "lucky", but it seems the harder I work, the luckier I get. Perhaps these people should get off their bums and get a job - they they wouldn't have to rely on Government handouts.

      I'm actually *glad* the conditions aren't great - should encourage more people to have some self-respect and fix their own situation.

      Good to be King
      Ivory tower
      Date and time
      June 17, 2013, 9:55AM
  • Just a repeat of what happened with the Billabong Housing Corporation. Isn't there an authority policing these oganisations? By the way, it's Housing ACT, not ACT Housing.

    Date and time
    June 17, 2013, 9:27AM
    • Spot on gg.

      The problem in Australia and many other countries is that a small percentage of people possess the vast majority of the wealth. Do a quick google and see the facts, or look at something like the Evatt foundation. When they look at wealth and incomes they always look at the average and say how we have all never been better off. Well it only takes a few very well off to make this so called average look much better than it really is.

      Mean while cost of living continues to sky rocket, and wages have failed to keep pace.
      Anyone that is not a one child, or childless dual income EL1+ couple cannot afford to survive in a place like Canberra anymore. And this will have big implications in the not too distant future. Too much money is tied up in mortgages, sucking spare cash from local small business, shops etc. Already first home buyers are gone from the Canberra market, and renters are struggling to pay that price of admission as well. Private debt in Australia is amongst the highest in the developed world, and our government is doing its best to match this.

      This is a ticking time bomb for our local economy, and simply not sustainable.

      Date and time
      June 17, 2013, 9:54AM
      • Not true. I had issues with broken asbestos sheeting, plumbing, broken heating/cooling, no lighting, shoddy wiring, roof leaks, holes in the wall, graffiti etc In my house and I fixed it for under $10k whilst working full time. I consider this to be the lucky country because I did this on my own whilst in my 20's and earning WELL below the average wage. I don't care if I have less than my fair proportion of wealth. I've got enough to be safe and happy

        Date and time
        June 17, 2013, 11:41AM
    • It is not the government who should be ashamed of the state of the housing supplied to these people, it is the tenants who should be ashamed of themselves. They are given every opportunity to improve their lot in life but constantly refuse to take advantage of anything given to them. They say they have pride in their culture and traditions, but I am sure their predecessors would not have included wonten destruction of housing, drunkeness, and ignoring opportunities given to them by long suffering tax-payers. I, for one, am sick and tired of continually paying good money to people who have no concept of appreciation. If they want equality in life they have to realise it is a 2 way street and it is time they started playing their part, and not taking handouts.

      t willis
      Date and time
      June 17, 2013, 9:58AM
      • Ignoring the effects of over 200 years of dispossession,cultural destruction, marginalisation and despair, not to mention the wholesale appropriation of land, resources and livelihood without compensation, conveniently forgetting that, before 1788, Aboriginal people had a functioning, sustaining lifestyle that had lasted at least 40,000 years, and assuming that the whitefella way of life is what everyone naturally aspires to?

        Date and time
        June 17, 2013, 12:09PM
    • I'm not disagreeing with the condition these houses are currently in, but they would not have been in that condition when the tenants first moved in. How about putting some responsibility back on them? As for ACT Housing, they are useless. I complained about a house next door to me for more than 6 months before they finally came out to inspect the place. It was a disgrace and completely unhealthy for the children living there.

      Date and time
      June 17, 2013, 10:02AM
      • Having worked at Housing ACT, the maintenance staff are very quick to get things fixed. It's the contractors who cause the problems with delays and shoddy work. Oh and as for holes in floors, etc, they don't appear on their own. Perhaps the ACT Government needs to have houses built with everything reinforced so this sort of damage cannot happen.

        Date and time
        June 17, 2013, 10:14AM

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