Resident locked out after flying overseas to be with dying mother 

Resident locked out after flying overseas to be with dying mother 
Brendan Rees

A North Melbourne public housing resident who travelled to Sri Lanka to be with his dying mother was left homeless after being evicted from his flat upon returning 12 months later. 

Desmond Ratnam, 62, said the housing system failed him after finding his Canning St unit had been repossessed, leaving him nowhere to go because he had been “uncontactable” while overseas. 

He said all his belongings were thrown out, leaving him to sleep in a park for months while being told he would need to reapply for public housing.

According to Mr Ratnam, he said he had informed the North Melbourne housing office of his travel plans before flying out in December 2021.

But he got stuck overseas due to complications from COVID-19, political unrest in Sri Lanka, and the death of his mother and the responsibility for her affairs.

“I came back after one year’s time; my mum was sick and dying. Then I came to my flat and it was locked,” he said after arriving back in January this year.


I was very upset.


Desperate for help, Mr Ratnam contacted the office of Melbourne Greens MP Ellen Sandell whose team fought hard to get him a home at the North Melbourne towers.

“When I first heard Desmond’s story, I was shocked at how cruel the current broken housing system can be,” Ms Sandell said, adding she was pleased to be able to help Mr Ratnam find a new home.

“This is exactly why the Greens are pushing Labor so hard for a rent freeze and significantly more investment in public housing.”

A Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) spokesperson said when Mr Ratnam moved overseas, the “department attempted to contact him over several months but was unsuccessful”.

“As we couldn’t make contact, we applied to VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) to regain possession of the property,” the spokesperson said.

“On becoming aware of the renter’s situation on his return from overseas, department staff provided emergency housing information for his immediate needs and assisted him in reapplying for housing as a priority applicant.”

“Shortly after receiving his application, the department offered the renter a property in North Melbourne.”

According to DFFH, public housing renters who are going to be away from their home for more than six weeks need to complete a temporary absence form. 

“An entire household is allowed to be away from home for up to six months. If a home is vacant for more than six months and an extension of the six-month period has not been approved, the department may need to take legal action to get the property back.”

The eviction was a double blow for Mr Ratnam who was forced to relocate from his previous public housing flat in Abbotsford St in 2018 due to the state government demolishing the building.

“The housing system is very broken, and not very well looking after the residents.”

In the meantime, Mr Ratnam said he hoped to find a two-bedroom unit to accommodate his wife and teenage son who would soon return from Sri Lanka. 

The DFFH spokesperson said the “department uses all measures to ensure public housing is used as effectively and as fairly as possible”. •

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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