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.