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Grieving family awaits decision on home

Date

Megan Doherty

The late Joan Barrett's daughters  Sally Ayers, left, Jane Elliot and granddaughter Bec Ayers  and Joan's dog Cookie, a King Charles cavalier,  at the government house in  Lyneham  where she lived for 53 years.

The late Joan Barrett's daughters Sally Ayers, left, Jane Elliot and granddaughter Bec Ayers and Joan's dog Cookie, a King Charles cavalier, at the government house in Lyneham where she lived for 53 years. Photo: Richard Briggs

Bec Ayers feels ''sick to the stomach'' by suggestions her family wants to purchase her grandmother's public housing home of almost 53 years to make a profit.

To them the little two-bedroom cottage in Lyneham is a storehouse of memories, one that they want to hold on to.

''If we could buy it, it would be in our family forever,'' Ms Ayers said.

Joan Barrett died on April 11 in Calvary Hospital at the age of 81, surrounded by her family.

She and her husband Tom moved into a government house in Longstaff Street in Lyneham on June 21, 1959, when Mr Barrett was transferred from Melbourne to work as a chauffeur at the American Embassy.

Mr Barrett died in 2000 and his widow continued to live in the Lyneham home. Photographs of their 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren cover the walls and Mrs Barrett's dog Cookie, now looked after by relatives, still wants to sit by her chair.

The Barretts raised four children in the modest, immaculate house, including daughters Sally Ayers and Jane Elliot, who cannot contain their tears as they say the home means ''everything'' to them.

Even when the family grew to four children, Mr Barrett turned the dining room into a bedroom because they wanted to stay in the house and among their community-minded neighbours.

Mrs Barrett's family has requested to buy the home from the ACT government at above market value, with two of her adult grandchildren hoping to live in it.

However, Community Services Minister Joy Burch says its policy is to sell only to tenants and not to family or others.

Ms Burch says a decision hasn't been made about the Lyneham home but she has asked the directorate to speed up the process, understanding the family is grieving and needs some answers.

With 1834 people on the housing waiting list, including 1104 regarded as high-needs, Ms Burch says ''in all likelihood'' the Lyneham house will be retained for public housing although it could be sold, probably at auction.

''There is no doubt within those numbers, there are young families, single parents with children who would like an opportunity for security and stability in this property,'' she said.

Ms Burch said with almost 12,000 public housing properties, the government did sell to tenants to help them achieve the stability of home ownership with all money generated directed back into public housing.

She said a tenant had to have 75 per cent of the value of the property up front and had up to 15 years to pay off the remainder of the property.

''Should it go to market, I will let the family know and how that process rolls out but in the main, we do take it to auction,'' she said.

The family is offended by comments made on talkback radio that they only want to buy the home in the inner-north to sell it later at a profit.

Mrs Ayers said the family ''wouldn't have a chance'' at getting the house at auction because ''there'll be a developer come in and say: 'Yep, we'll have that.'

''We understand there are people on the waiting list but if we buy it, that's going to give the government money to buy probably two smaller units in a different suburb,'' she said.

Mrs Elliot said their parents couldn't afford to buy the house and their mother was too ill to consider it in her latter years. ''Dad was the only one working and he wasn't on the huge public service wage people are on now,'' she said.

The family says ultimately it's about hanging on to a much-loved part of their history. Mrs Barrett wanted to die in the home but was never discharged from hospital. Her family made sure her funeral cortege drove past the house, the cars tooting as they drove by.

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