250 public dwellings would cost $100,000 each to fix up

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

There are 250 public housing dwellings in the NT that would cost $100,000 each to fix up.
Housing Minister Peter Chandler’s first departmental briefing, days after the Country Liberals’ election victory in August last year, revealed that two-thirds of the Repair and Maintenance budget had been spent in the financial year’s first two months.
In Alice Springs 91 dwellings are currently empty.
Mr Chandler (pictured) says: “We inherited a legacy, not just from the previous Labor Government, but even the previous CLP Government” which included dwellings in an “atrocious standard”.
The discussions he’s having with the department – no Cabinet decision has yet been made – includes this idea: Identify 50 amongst those 250 dwellings that can be sold and we put the money towards fixing the rest.
Of these 50 dwellings, 20 are likely to be in Alice Springs.
Opponents to the idea say this would reduce the housing stock.
“I argue the reverse is happening,” says Mr Chandler. “We’ll have 200 extra homes we can use.”
He says expressions of interest are closing next month and already 80 submissions have been received “from people  prepared to work with the government in solving what is no doubt a housing crisis in the NT.
“We have a terrible mess and we need to clean it up.”
Who is likely to be selected?
“It could be a mixture. In the position we’re in I can’t be too choosy,” says Mr Chandler.
“I want to deal with it quickly. If developers come in and want to redevelop a home, if investors want to come in, if first home buyers come in and see if there’s a fixer-upper – I’m happy with any of that.”
In one year land prices in the new Top End suburb of Bellamack jumped from $200,000 to $250,000.
Says Mr Chandler: “Where was the public outcry? Why wasn’t the previous government releasing more land to stop land prices going up $1000 a week?”
He says he has a “completely different view to they way public housing has been handled previously”.
He wants to roll over dwellings every 10 or 15 years “so we always have new houses coming on stream.
“As you sell them off you’re providing a first home buyers scheme” and “use the money to build new homes, providing great work for local builders.
“We need to get rid of the legacy what these homes have become, 20, 30 years old and not very well maintained.
“If we have better homes we lift the standard of the people living in them, and hold them to those standards, changing the culture within Territory Housing.”
Mr Chandler expects substantial savings can be made by streamlining the way the department deals with maintenance contracts.
He gives this example: Over a period of 12 months a lady tenant had complained – to the department and ultimately to him – about the light on top of a pole in her complex malfunctioning intermittently. Six electricians attended to the problem until it was finally fixed.
Says Mr Chandler: “Have we paid the previous electricians? Under the processes in place they had.
“They had paid six times to have a job done that should have been done right the first time.
“There was no proactive measure in place to check on the workmanship that was being done. I said, that’s got to change.”
Len Griffiths, Department of Housing Regional Executive Director Central Australia, says dwellings are vacated for a number of reasons: “Tenants relocate, some dwellings are handed back due to antisocial behaviour or a dwelling is no longer cost effective to maintain.
“All vacated properties undergo an assessment of their ongoing viability [which] includes, but is not limited to, the density of public housing in the surrounding area.
“The zoning of the land and potential for redevelopment is also considered.”
Mr Chandler confirmed that a high concentration of public housing in an area may be a reason for selling some.
Says Mr Griffiths: “The department has undertaken maintenance and minor works to the value of $7.6M in urban housing in Alice Springs in the 2012/13 financial year” – mostly in the first two months, as Mr Chandler discovered.
“This is a considerable contribution to the economy in Alice Springs and reflects similar expenditure in the region to the previous financial year.”

PHOTO: One of the 91 public housing dwellings in Alice Springs unoccupied and awaiting repairs.

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5 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Leigh Childs
    Posted April 2, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Dennis Kolberg, my house in Alice Springs has no air conditioning and never has had.

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  2. Dennis Kolberg
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 6:35 am

    It was disclosed last week that six houses built for Aboriginal people in Wilcannia two years ago still have no air-conditioning.
    A special case will have to be made before any house is even considered for fitting of a cooler.
    Families with sick people or kids have to move in with relatives when the houses get too hot to live in.
    You are not alone!

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  3. Bev Emmott
    Posted March 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    In reply to Kathy I would like to say that the house we live in was damaged before we moved in – I am a widow who had to bring up 3 children on her own. My house I had in Adelaide was sold and the money disappeared – I have many health problems so cant work full time.
    However when I have asked for repairs to be done – workmen come out and do either half the job or a shoddy job – then leave and Territory Housing blame me for it and expect me to pay for repairs.
    An example – the vanity in the bathroom had a door replaced with uncovered pineboard – the lounge room roof had a hole in it when we moved in – when it rained it leaked so I asked for repairs.
    This was back in 2001 – but it still has not been fixed in 2013 and now is mouldy.
    There were many other similar issue but it seems that those not in the know always blame the tenant even when the tenant is not at fault.
    I have been many times ordered to give to the Aboriginals but never once had any money that was taken from me returned.
    My troubles started with church people who decided that what was mine was theirs.
    Since Alice Springs is run by church people if you don’t want to give everything to them then they use such things as Territory Housing to help their “favourites” who are usually rich and destroy those without money.

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  4. Posted March 24, 2013 at 9:58 am

    I am appalled how the government pussyfoots around the so called Government Housing issue.
    Why is there so much damage done to these homes? Do not always blame the guys who continually have to return to repair damage already done by the tenants, again and again, and at time the same job. The job to repair and maintenance to Government Housing is blatant misuse of government property. I.e. holes in walls and doors, kitchens full of cockroaches, rubbish left all over the yard and fences and mail boxes destroyed. This is not helping the situation by cleaning up and repairing buildings after these people who treat these homes as expected, and never appreciate it.

    With the local bush people, ask them what type of living shelter they want, don’t just give them a house. If you open your eyes you will see that most of the families sleep and spend the days outside, not inside the home.

    A shelter from the weather and a cooking area is more to their liking.
    Yes, then we are told we are discriminating. Why not ask the people whom you are giving these houses to, what they want in a home? I guess that is too hard and what will the anti-discrimination people say?

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  5. Steve Brown
    Posted March 17, 2013 at 11:34 am

    While I congratulate the Minister on his apparent new openness and transparency this article raises a lot more questions than it answers and while some of the aspirational comment is good much suggests that the Minister is in urgent need of some outside expertise.
    As a Minister in a new Government with the self-declared intention of “making a difference” the first thing you need to do is understand your department and its issues “as they are”, not as department heads would like you, to understand them.
    Minister Chandler appears to have swallowed the department line, hook line and sinker!
    Selling houses without reducing stock Mr Chandler I suspect every housing manager in the country would like to know how you manage that!
    Selling off poorly maintained houses to fix other poorly maintained houses is a management joke that would assuredly send any private company to the wall!
    Going backwards is what you are proposing Minister; going backwards is going backwards, no matter how you dress it up.
    There are so many furphies and departmental myths in this article it hard to know where to begin.
    Take general maintenance of Territory Housing stocks under normal circumstances this contracted out to reputable maintenance companies. This system has been in place for 30 years or more and has worked well until very recent times.
    That the system has broken down has nothing at all to do with workmanship, it has absolutely everything to do with a shameless degree of departmental incompetence and mismanagement!
    For instance, the introduction of a new computer system last year saw maintenance grind to a complete halt for months, staffing and competence issues since that time have seen this extend right up until the present.
    This is very much at odds with the department’s claim, that they have expended this year’s budget, in the first few months of the financial year, making this claim either untrue or covering a huge increase in expenditure elsewhere outside of the normal maintenance regime.
    Could it just possibly be that the inserting of another high cost parasitical NGO to do the management / maintenance of town camps has something to do with it?
    Have a few hundred recently refurbished town camp houses used up the entire housing budget? A budget intended to maintain thousands of mainstream homes!
    The NGO, a supposedly non profit group made, its appearance under the previous government but has continued to prosper under the new regime. Perhaps the minister would like to comment as to why the intention of inclusiveness, of bringing the town camps into the mainstream community for the deliverance of their services, has already been usurped by departmental support of this new group seeking to isolate control of camps in order to create another fringe camp empire?
    Is this in line with CLP policy? Is this in line with the Chief Minister’ss stated intention of not separating indigenous issues from the mainstream?
    Why is density of Housing homes an issue that gives excuse for selling off? House are houses, surely it doesn’t matter who owns them unless of course … there is an issue around say, poor maintenance and tenant behaviour!
    “Yes Minister”, another management issue! Selling off houses to excuse departmental failure, to properly, adequately, supervise these houses! How on earth do you think we’d get on in private enterprise if we took this approach?
    Selling off house to developers if we in the business can afford to buy renovate and market these house at a profit I am absolutely certain that the department can renovate and retain a asset for a good deal less.
    Your statement says these homes would require the expenditure of up to $100,000.
    [ED – our report said the 250 dwellings would require $100,000 each.]
    Many I suspect would require a good deal less, therefore minister, for a rather small capital expenditure you could have a hundred ready made “affordable” houses, available almost immediately for sale to desperately needy home buyers.
    If these houses are sold for development they will re-enter the market at prices well above what can be described as “affordable”. Is this what the CLP wants?
    I applaud the minister’s stated intention of reintroducing a construction regime for new Housing homes along with an affordable home buyers’ scheme.
    I would love to see the reintroduction of the Old Commission home ownership scheme that allowed tenants to rent and convert to purchase at a time of their choosing, with prior rent being converted to part of the purchase price and vendor finance provided by Housing.
    In Alice Springs the intention to construct new homes revolves very much around the availability of “affordable” land. Until we have some we should do our best to maintain our existing housing stocks.
    As an electrician who sub-contracts quite a bit of housing maintenance in Alice I can tell you that the story of the electricians visiting the lighting pole six times in twelve months is one of those departmental myths floated with the intention of deflecting responsibility and developing further roles for bureaucrats.
    The absolute last thing that Housing or the Territory needs. I can tell you that it wouldn’t be unusual to visit a light post in a block of units many more than six times in a year, because minister, these post are sabotaged, switched off or smashed over and over again. So who do you think needs closer monitoring, the usually hardworking electrician or those office bound bureaucrats responsible for the management of these premises?
    The management of Housing has been in crisis for a generation. During that time the department has been guilty of divesting itself of as many homes as it possibly could in an attempt to divest itself of difficult management issues and responsibility.
    The result is that Territory Housings stocks are far lower today than they were 15 years ago! The selling off has occurred in complete disregard for the “years long” waiting list of struggling young families paying out enormous rents in the private market and looking to a Housing home for some chance, a start in life.
    Minister, the Housing homes 30 years old or not, that are upgraded and returned to the pool for rental are every bit as good as a brand new home! There is not a young or old family that wouldn’t jump with joy at being provided with an opportunity to purchase or rent these houses from Housing, at an affordable rate!
    So stop the rot!
    Give our families a chance! Give our community some stability! Minister, during the party’s years in Opposition they continually railed at Labor for selling off homes and went to an election with a policy of “Increasing Housing Stocks”.
    Do us all a favour, including your own party, stick to the policy, stick to the arguments given so many times prior to the election, stop the sell off!
    Concentrate on taking Housing from being a welfare provider to an incentive provider, force the department to accept responsibility, to take up the role of being both a welfare and incentive housing provider and meet the community’s expectations of good management of these community assets.
    If funding is required borrow the funds! If I can borrow to buy these houses you can borrow to provide them!
    I wish the Minister all the best in his new role, decent affordable housing is the very basis of our industry, economy and general health and well-being. Give yourself a chance in reaching worthy aspirational goals hire some industry expertise from outside the department, sort the wheat from the chaff, make “Housing” happen for the first time in a generation! That really will be “making a difference”!

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