Public housing residents’ voices have to be heard

Public housing residents’ voices have to be heard
Cory Memery

Deborah Glass, the Victorian Ombudsman, investigated the state government’s lockdowns of high-rise public housing in Flemington and North Melbourne last year and came to the conclusion that residents’ human rights had been violated.

Just how a democratically elected government could reject a finding of breaching human rights by an independent body in its own jurisdiction, defies my understanding of how democracy functions in Victoria.

I worked throughout the COVID-19 crises last year to engage public housing tenants in their own management of COVID-19 safeguards and preventive actions that met no response from the police and DHHS officials imposing the lockdowns.

The City of Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sally Capp awarded me the city’s Community Champion of the Year for 2020 in recognition of the work I did and the public housing residents who wanted an outcome different to detention lockdowns.

No private housing was subject to a detention lockdown last year in Victoria.

The government has a deadline of the end of this month set by Ms Glass to respond to her recommendations in full.

One of the recommendations on page 20 of her report is:

“The establishment of tenant representative bodies that can meet and engage with the relevant government agencies on issues that need resolution on estates: from maintenance to community health programs that can benefit residents.”

The Save Public Housing Collective, which I am a spokesperson for, wants to see the establishment of tenant representative bodies that would be fully funded by the state government, comprising a peak body representing tenants state-wide and local or estate groups empowered to support their local tenants and run community programs.

Public Housing Ombudsman

Ms Glass’s investigation into the COVID-19 detention lockdown came after a very large number of residents asked her to do so. Many friends of residents and supporters of public housing in our community did so as well.

Unfortunately, prior to this not all residents’ complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office received proper consideration for a range of reasons including resources.

Last year a campaign was established calling for the establishment of a Public Housing Ombudsman in Victoria to end this problem.

This has now been made more difficult with a new agency – the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing – taking over the role of complaints management. Just tenants who talk to now is very unclear.

Many tenants want a Public Housing Ombudsman and more than 800 have signed the petition in support of this.

I encourage all my column readers to support this campaign and sign our petition.

On a sad note, early May we had the passing of a stalwart here at the Carlton Housing Estate. R.I.P. Jean Lazarus 1935 to 2021.

Jean (aka Mrs Wobbles) was a beautiful and much-loved member of our community.  What a colourful character she was. Personally, to me, it was heartbreaking. I will miss her banter, her conversation, and mostly her love •

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