Government Broken Relocation Promises: Death Warrants?

vacant townhouses in Canberra, AU
ACT Housing in Canberra, Australia continues to demolish or renovate its public housing stock. These homes were taken down in 2017.

Nursing homes have no desire to become custodians of tatty old furniture, near and dear to nobody’s hearts but the owner’s. But far from discouraging such an intake along with new residents, they often actively promote it.

Why? Because moving homes for older, more vulnerable people is so stressful it can be literally homicidal. Bringing a little bit of home with you has long been proven to mitigate such literally dangerous-to-life transitions.

What then to make of governments that appear to acknowledge the stress of a forcible move from a space that has been home for many years? Particularly when that apparent compassion exists only so long as is convenient?

This odious cynicism is currently rattling the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). There, rebuild-don’t-refurbish developers’ dreams are playing out. Healthy profits are assured by demolishing the old and building anew. The ‘bad old’ poverty-stricken social housing will be replaced with housing for a mix of incomes.

Normally in such a project, a majority of new free-market homes will include a minority of new social housing units, creating a supposedly superior and more beneficial kind of social community.

In order to clear the decks of sitting tenants to allow construction to begin, ACT has, with superficially appropriate compassion, developed a program of voluntary relocation for social housing residents. Such projects can move forward comfortably with a cynical promise of a right-to-return.

How does more social housing pre-project provide for the same number of social housing tenants squeezed into fewer units? Those who offer ‘free-giveaway’ vouchers know the answer. (Only a fraction of the vouchers will ever be redeemed.)

For those moved temporarily out of housing, a potent mix of delay, disappointment and unfulfilled double-talk may well ensure that as few as 20% of dislocated residents will return to the completed project months or years away1.

In the initial clear-the-decks phase of the project, a voluntary relocation program has played out at ACT.  Now, however, compassionate sales pitches have run out of steam. A core of too-frightened-to-leave remain, their health quite likely at risk.

Now what? It seems that the compassionate approach was always a sham. To an accompanying furor, ACT has responded by declaring a limit to community inconvenience by stubborn social housing residents. It has sent evict-and-relocate notices anyway.

Redeveloping social housing as mixed tenure housing is a profitable scheme that is happening worldwide. If its motives are questionable, its financial rewards to developers are all but guaranteed.

Unfortunately, vulnerable older social housing residents bear the health and even life-threatening risks. Allowing this step, inevitably made in the name of ‘progress,’ is unconscionable for any government.

Read more at the Riotact: Government forced to look closer at exemptions from public housing relocations


  1. You’ll have to dig into this article in The Age about housing in the state of Victoria, Australia, which offers an example of the saddening number of people who are able to take up their ‘guarantee’ of a right to return: Liberal MP’s ‘clumsy’ public housing comments expose Coalition’s broader view