Just before Christmas there were important developments on the Atherton Gardens public housing estate in Fitzroy (Melbourne). The estate is made up of four 20-storey towers and several two storey ‘walk-up’ blocks. Officially there are 2500 residents, but the true figure is probably closer to 4000.
Residents have been complaining for years about inferior refurbishments, poor maintenance, cockroaches, a lack of air conditioning and shoddy plumbing. It is estimated that recent work at the estate has cost the State government $74 million but most of the buildings are still falling apart.
The Office of Housing has covered up the incompetence of its contractors and State Government Neighbourhood Renewal committees are used to water down resident anger. For far too long the government has refused to deal with the genuine concerns of the residents. That is why the Socialist Party decided to act and called a tenants meeting in late December.
A few days before the meeting the Sunday Herald Sun confirmed some of the problems when they reported that: “About 400 of the estate’s 800 high-rise flats have been renovated since 2002, with new kitchens and bathrooms, better security and fresh paint and carpet. Each renovation costs about $60,000. But when the Sunday Herald Sun visited the estate last week, we discovered: NO security measures at the front door — we were able to walk straight in. EXPOSED wiring hanging from the ceiling of one renovated tower. EXPOSED wiring visible on the outside of the buildings, with crumbling cement. ROUGH, shoddy paintwork in the corridors, disguising roughly patched walls. POORLY fitted windows. WARPED covers on fire hoses and fuse boxes painted but not repaired. GRUBBY and damaged vinyl that has been recycled and put into the newly renovated flats.”
The article in the Sunday Herald Sun gave the residents confidence to get organised and the meeting in the estates’ community hall was packed with people who outlined horror story upon horror story. After a thorough discussion about the issues a 13-person Residents Action Committee was elected. The committee quickly demanded a meeting with the Housing Minister and local ALP Member, Richard Wynne.
A resolution was passed that called for: An independent audit of all contractors used by the Office of Housing with at least 50% elected resident involvement; An audit of refurbishments and the repair of all defects by Easter 2010; A tradesperson to be employed on-site to do all maintenance on the estate; An immediate full service of all the lifts in the towers and security that works – including more lighting in dark areas of the estate.
The combination of the brave stance taken by some of the residents, by exposing the government in the media, and the public meeting has meant that in recent weeks the Office of Housing has agreed to deal with many of the issues. A meeting has also been held with the Minister and other senior bureaucrats from the Office of Housing.
Some of the issues have already been resolved but residents will be expecting immediate action on the more systemic issues at the estate and are preparing for direct action if necessary. The Socialist Party will be encouraging other public housing tenants in Yarra to follow the lead of Atherton Gardens and set up their own committees. Only through organisation and action will these issues be resolved.
By SP reporters