Winter 2017 - The Centre

small children and elderly Victorians”. Further: “We ... Public Housing Renewal Program, North Melbourne, sketch plan 'for discussion' ..... Please pick up reservation from North Mel- ..... precinct, and keeping business with local ser- vices.
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‘Abbotsford St Estate Renewal’ to grow public housing

Public Housing Renewal Program, North Melbourne, sketch plan ‘for discussion’

Katrina Kincade-Sharkey


he Department of Health and Human Services’ communication difficulties have devastated many of its North Melbourne residents, with tenants facing re-housing in potentially unfamiliar regions. Several dozen of the several hundred DHHS residents housed in 16 blocks of apartments within the Abbotsford, Haines, Curzon and Molesworth streets triangle received initial redevelopment notification about their homes on a single typewritten sheet inserted within their quarterly housing newsletter delivered mid-March. It said the blocks would be replaced within the near future with “… vibrant, better-connected, mixed-tenure neighbourhoods where people can live in housing that is safe and secure, and meets modern standards”. DHHS simultaneously wrote to each of its tenants on that block, but gave no specific timelines for their individual tenancies, although it has said Abbotsford Street Estate will be completely rebuilt by 2020. In questions and answers for the community released to the media on 17 March, DHHS says: “The Public Housing Renewal Pro-

gram is part of the Victorian Government’s $2.7 billion in support for social housing and homelessness and to renew existing houses on public housing estates across metropolitan Melbourne and in regional centres of Victoria.” This advice continues: “The renewal will result in a 10 per cent increase of social housing homes at each renewal estate.” That generalised, fairly curt notification to the 108 letterboxed apartments provided no ability for residents to appeal proposals for redevelopment. It was their first notification of a major life change, delivered to many people who reportedly panicked. Those English-language letters were received by a housing community of predominantly disabled, aged and newly settled residents, many of whom could not read or understand the details. Certainly included were single paragraphs in several languages telling readers where they could access translations of the circular, but no specific translations about their future homes were included on the notification sheets. Many worried tenants suspect restricted future access to critical medical, educational and social services for themselves and/or their families in the wake of this ‘estate renewal’. Following its March letterbox circular

Graphic: David Lock Associates

DHHS called a public meeting in the grounds of the estate during April to deliver formal explanation of this major lifestyle change for its tenants. In leaflets distributed to the 60 or so people in attendance — several of whom were interested neighbours from adjacent streets — DHHS says it is “… developing our plans to renew the Abbotsford Street site … and we want to work together with residents, local services and council to decide how to create a new, integrated neighbourhood”. The leaflet continues, noting the site “… consists of older public housing buildings that are rundown and have high maintenance costs. The site includes multi-storey ‘walk-ups’ — buildings commonly constructed in the early 1960s without lifts, making them inaccessible to people with mobility issues, families with small children and elderly Victorians”. Further: “We [DHHS] want to improve and grow social housing at this estate because it is close to transport, education and work opportunities, as well as support services.” Fortunately, the gardens info meet was held on a sunny autumn day, with DHHS providing make-up artists to paint young children’s faces, while several translators were on hand to speak with parents in their birth languages. But tenants were given no new address

notification and there was no appointed personal contact with their landlord (the DHHS Director of Housing) or with the departme