The ACT government has put elderly public housing tenants on notice: Housing ACT plans to forcibly evict you from your home and relocate you to another public housing dwelling.
Since January, dozens of predominantly elderly women have received letters from Housing ACT advising them their home has been selected for inclusion in the ACT government's 'Growth and Renewal' program.
From the government's perspective, this means relocating tenants to free up valuable land to sell to fund worthwhile public work, like building more public housing and upgrading existing dwellings.
But for these elderly tenants, it means facing eviction from their homes of 10, 20 or even 30 years. A home is your castle. It is a place of memories, refuge and safety.
For many of these tenants it is where they raised their children, celebrated birthdays, grieved loved ones, and planned to live out their final years.
It is not just four walls and a roof. It feels unbearable they could be forced to leave.
Today, more than a dozen housing, legal and community service organisations have published an open letter calling on the ACT government to end the program of forced evictions and to replace the Growth and Renewal program with an opt-in, voluntary relocation program.
These organisations understand all too well the challenges faced by the ACT government in meeting the growing demand for public housing.
Decades of failed national housing policy and abominably low social security payments have created a perfect storm of ballooning community need for a shrinking public housing sector.
But is the solution really forcing elderly people out of their homes?
Anonymous information published by Canberra Community Law shows the tenants affected by the Growth and Renewal program are overwhelmingly elderly, female, and living with disabilities or chronic health conditions.
Their home is not just their castle, but also their fortress against domestic violence. Their home is a place they have tailored to suit their mobility needs.
Their home is the centre of their community, at the heart of the professional and family support they depend on.
Of course, there are people in public housing who would be willing to relocate voluntarily if suitable alternative accommodation were made available.
They are living in properties that are too big, too small or too old, and they would welcome the opportunity for something more suitable. Such a voluntary program would require our government to work with people to find a shared solution, instead of against them.
Public housing exists to ensure every member of our community has somewhere to call home.
It is meant to give each of us the dignity of a safe place to live and to rest. Yes, it often falls short of this goal, with poorly-maintained properties and waiting lists that leave people vulnerable for years. But the ideal is a noble one.
This ideal is one we should defend as a key element of a decent society. A home is a precious thing, whether you own it, rent it from a private landlord, or rent it from the government. The ACT government should remember this and abandon its program of forced evictions.
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