Public Housing — Guildford
Date:Thursday, June 28, 2012
Extract from Hansard
HON ALISON XAMON (East Metropolitan) [5.23 pm]: I wish to bring to the attention of the house a couple of constituents’ issues I have been dealing with. This matter has got to the point at which I think it deserves further attention. In November last year—many months ago—I was approached by a constituent who lives in Guildford who was concerned about the state of her Homeswest property. She advised me that for more than three years she had been making complaints to the Department of Housing to fix the problems at her house. She also suggested that another tenant who was experiencing problems contact my office, which the tenant did. In a nutshell, the sorts of issues I am talking about is that one of the units had faulty guttering, downpipes and soakwells and that resulted in severe damp in the walls and water getting into the eaves. Consequently, the property walls and ceilings were all infested with mould. The mould had gotten into much of the furniture and the tenant had developed asthma from constantly living with the mould. In addition, the bathrooms were not fully waterproofed, which also added to the mould and damp. The other unit had serious structural damage to the building, including cracks in the walls that were so wide that it resulted in gaps in the walls, and the ceiling was full of holes. Apparently the problems were caused by subsidence, which of itself was caused by soakwells being installed too close to the buildings. The tenant’s daughter has also developed asthma while living in the property.
As per the process, my office contacted the ministerial liaison officer for our region at Homeswest. We were told that they would arrange to have the mould removed and to send a structural engineer to assess the problems at both units. By January some basic mould cleaning had been done and workmen had been sent to look at the guttering problems, but a structural engineer still had not been to the property. In February we wrote to Homeswest again detailing the problems and, frustratingly, the further problems that the workmen who had been there had caused. In the meantime the guttering at the first unit had not been fixed to stop water getting into the eaves, and although they had installed more downpipes, they had not installed any soakwells, so this ended up causing more problems than it solved. A structural engineer attended at that point and noted the subsidence and lack of waterproofing at both units, and also the huge structural issues with the second unit. It was also noted that although some work had been carried out to the first unit, as I mentioned, to mend a cornice, the workmen had also sealed up the manhole cover, which now needs to be replaced as there is no manhole access in the property. Over the summer the heat caused further cracks in the buildings and ceilings; as there are now gaps in the walls and ceilings in both units, there were issues with dust, which exacerbated the asthma of the tenants of both units. My office was assured that these matters would be urgently investigated. Since then, my office has contacted both the tenants and the department’s liaison person at least once a month to follow this up.
In April, when none of the real issues had been addressed, we wrote directly to the minister and asked a question on notice in Parliament to find out when these problems would be addressed. The letter was dated 27 April 2012 and the questions were submitted on 1 May 2012. Last week—eight weeks later—I was given a cursory response from the minister to the question, in which he refused to answer any of the questions and stated that our letter would be responded to in due course. On further discussion with the liaison officer last week, after I had received the answer to my question, we found out that the department had apparently sent the letter to the minister’s office two weeks before. As of today—we are talking three weeks—my office still has not received a notification that the letter has been received, yet we have got the answer back to our question in Parliament, which did not actually answer any of the questions at all but simply said that we would get a letter in due course and that the answers would be in there.
Speaking to one of the tenants, she advised that she has been contacted by one of the contractors who will carry out some of the work to the external part of her unit. The contractor said that the problems with subsidence will persist until the soakwells are relocated away from the buildings. We are talking about some substantial reconstruction work. She has been offered relocation while the work is carried out, but she is concerned about being permanently relocated because her daughter attends the local school and, obviously, she does not want to be moved a great distance away. That is fair and reasonable. Apparently there is a bit of a plan for relocation in place that involves one of the other tenants in the units being transferred to a larger property. The tenant will then move into that vacated unit while the work is being carried out on her property, and then the other tenant who also has a substandard unit will be moved into that unit while work is carried out on her property. Both tenants are perfectly fine with that plan, at least in theory. It is good to see that there is finally some movement, but, unfortunately, the family that needs to move to make it happen has already been on a waiting list for a larger property for two years and it does not look as though there will be an appropriate property in sight any time soon. Even then, the work that the contractor intends to do to the unit is to do with the subsidence and not with the structural issues. They have been given no information about when those issues will be dealt with. To add insult to injury, a couple of weekends ago a large fascia board—the big boards over carports—actually fell off the building and narrowly missed two people, one of whom was a child. I do not think anyone in this place would think that that is an acceptable state of things. I suspect that every single member here would think that this is really not good enough.
I know that there has been a lot of publicity recently about concerns about the contractors to Homeswest who are doing repairs. I am adding my voice to that and saying that if this is the sort of thing that is occurring, we seriously have a problem on our hands with what is happening with Homeswest housing in this state. These people are in quite an invidious position. As I said, both tenants have got to the point at which we are talking about people being unwell. I have seen photos of the homes. They are pretty much uninhabitable. A solution is potentially in sight, but it has to be moved on fairly quickly to make it happen. I am saying that this is really not good. I deal with a lot of Homeswest issues, but I think that this one really highlights exactly how problematic the situation has become for these tenants. I think that they are entitled to expect, particularly in view of the fact that they are paying rent, that they would get a better deal. If they were in the private housing market, certainly they would be entitled to expect that these sorts of serious repairs would be undertaken as a matter of urgency.
I note today that we have a new housing minister. I hope that the new housing minister gets across these sorts of concerns very quickly, and I hope that we will see a bit of a shift in the way in which these arrangements have been handled. Certainly, I hope that in future if I ask a question in Parliament, I will get an answer and, at the very least, I will also get answers to my correspondence when I send it to the minister.