Public housing resident action groups treated like “rags”

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Spencer Fowler Steen

A frustrated public housing resident has slammed new resident action groups as a “farce” amid claims her elderly neighbours are being seriously neglected, belongings are being thrown out unnecessarily, and government staff are creating a culture of fear.

In October, the Victorian Government’s Paving the Way Forward Program created resident action groups for public housing residents living in North Melbourne and Flemington to improve communication and maintenance of amenities.

But Pampas St public housing resident Deepa Gupta, who is a member of three of the five resident action groups, said she had repeatedly asked relevant government departments to improve living conditions to no avail.

Ms Gupta said in November, her 92-year-old handicapped neighbour fell and injured herself because her bathroom light was broken for four days despite making “dozens” of calls to the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) requesting repairs.

“She had made dozens of calls and was so frustrated with the rudeness and apathy being dealt out to her,” Ms Gupta wrote in the resident action WhatsApp group seen by North West City News.

“Being handicapped and [with] her carer on leave, she was struggling in vain.”

“This is what’s happening and they’re talking about resident actions groups – it’s a farce.”

Ms Gupta, who is from India, has 30 years of experience in public service and is a chartered accountant, as well as the CEO of not-for-profit organisation Marg Foundation.

She is also the tower champion for 9 Pampas St, having been nominated following the Victorian Ombudsman’s report into the hard lockdown of the North Melbourne and Flemington towers last year, which found human rights had been violated.

Ms Gupta said that in October, an elderly man she knew at 9 Pampas St had passed away in his flat, but his body was not discovered until seven days later in a state of decomposition.

“[The Department of Families Fairness and] Housing did nothing,” she said.

“People here are old. They need support in odd hours.”

On another occasion, Ms Gupta said a Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) employed staff member working at 9 Pampas St had allegedly “personally humiliated” her and acted towards her with “discrimination”.

“I had to take special medications,” she said.

“My psychologist told me I should report the incident to the police. I was vulnerable. I was scared. I was supressed. I did not want to lose my roof.”

Ms Gupta said she still did not know what actions the DHHS had taken to address the incident despite reporting it in writing to the department more than a year ago.

According to Ms Gupta, the alleged abuse took place after she tried to fix up a vandalised, communal part of the building by planting flowers and putting up Christmas decorations for residents to enjoy and utilise for gatherings.

The decorations and communal items were subsequently removed.

Ms Gupta said the staff member in question allegedly targeted her following the incident by throwing out her Christmas tree outside her door.

“Small things like leaving my pen around in the laundry I would get called up about it because I’d ruffled feathers of Housing,” she said.

“All the residents stopped talking to me because they thought I was going to get removed.”

On a different occasion, Ms Gupta said a resident at Pampas St was hospitalised due to illness, so she left a desk chair which he had lent to her outside his door.

But not long after, she found the chair dumped on the ground outside on Pampas St.

“With what right [do] cleaners have to throw it in the garbage?” Ms Gupta wrote on the WhatsApp group.

“How many times does DFFH want make us realise that we are at your mercy?”

 

We are beggars. Aren’t we?

 

Ms Gupta said after speaking and writing to the department on multiple occasions, her co-resident was asked by a government staff member if “having a roof “over his head was not enough, and told that if he was unhappy, he could be shifted to Frankston instead.

Ms Gupta also questioned the name of the Resident Action Groups.

“DFFH Resident Action Groups – 'RAGS' – are we rags? In your eyes we are, but need you shove it down our throats?” Ms Gupta said.

In response to questions from North West City News, a DFFH spokesperson said the department always took any concerns raised by tenants seriously and responded quickly to a request from the tenant to fix their bathroom light.

“A number of attempts were made to contact the person who sadly passed away. Police were then notified and discovered the man had passed away in an adjoining property to Pampas St. Our thoughts are with their family and friends,” the spokesperson said.

The Victorian Government provided background that DFHH had not received any complaints about inappropriate behaviour by staff towards Ms Gupta at 9 Pampas St.

“As many elderly people with mobility challenges live in this block, items in the walkways or common areas pose health and safety risks and are removed. Housing staff issued notices to all renters requesting personal belongings be removed from the communal area seven days before arranging for the items to be removed.”

“The 92-year-old resident’s request to repair a bathroom light was completed within 24 hours. Departmental staff telephoned the renter on December 1, 2021, who confirmed there are no outstanding maintenance issues at their property.”

“There were attempts by both the Housing Call Centre and the local housing office to contact the renter who sadly passed away, for a welfare check. When this was unsuccessful, Victoria Police were called and found the renter had passed away.”

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