By Bianca Hall
Homes Victoria has won an order to evict the last remaining resident at a doomed public housing estate in inner Melbourne.
The authority took Margaret Kelly, a 68-year-old disability pensioner, to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) after she refused to vacate her home of 25 years to make way for a new housing development at the estate.
Margaret Kelly (right), with friend and supporter Lyn Dixon, says she won’t leave her home.Credit: Wayne Taylor
Barak Beacon, a sprawling 89-dwelling public housing estate nestled among modern apartment towers in gentrifying Port Melbourne, is being demolished to make way for a new housing estate.
One by one, Kelly’s neighbours have been moved into private or supported housing. Kelly has rejected six properties offered to her by the housing department, saying they were unsafe or unsuitable for her mobility issues, and refused to leave.
“You are demolishing beautiful buildings without any plans for what you’re going to do in the future,” Kelly told Homes Victoria advisor Lindel Jane at a VCAT hearing.
“You’re going to demolish the buildings, then put in a tender [and] when you’ve got the tender, then you can consult the community. So, it’s going to be a shame if what the community wants is a sympathetic redevelopment of historic buildings.”
The estate is in the process of being demolished.Credit: Penny Stephens
VCAT Member Barry Josephs has now ordered Kelly to vacate the premises by August 7. The orders warn her that if she fails to move she could be “forcibly vacated from the rented premises by a police officer”.
He found Homes Victoria had repeatedly tried to engage with Kelly about being moved from the home and had offered safe, reasonable alternative accommodation options that would keep her within her community.
Josephs said delaying the matter any further would have knock-on effects for other renters being offered housing at the new, redeveloped site.
The project is being delivered by Homes Victoria, which sits within the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing and is responsible for delivering the Andrews government’s $5.3 billion Big Housing Build program.
A worker in PPE at the Barak Beacon housing estate in June.Credit: Penny Stephens
A department spokesperson said more than 300 social, affordable and privately owned homes would be built on the site.
But the question of what will replace Barak Beacon remains unknown, with the department yet to release designs for the new estate or a breakdown of the housing categories.
A Homes Victoria spokeswoman said the new housing would be delivered under a Ground Lease Model, where public land would be leased to a privately owned project group that would finance, design and construct new housing, and manage tenancies for 40 years.
She said design plans for the Barak Beacon site would be released later this year, subject to a procurement process.
“The existing, outdated housing at Barak Beacon does not meet current design standards and will be replaced with modern, energy-efficient, accessible and environmentally sustainable homes. New homes will be a mixture of social, affordable, market rental and disability accommodation.
“All relocated tenants will have first rights to one of the newly constructed homes, if they wish to return after the project is completed, under the same conditions which they left, including rent settings.”
The Age has previously revealed waiting lists for public housing are now topping 20 months for the state’s most vulnerable, while Homes Victoria data reveals 58,131 families were waiting for long-term accommodation in March. Fifty-four per cent of those families were categorised as priority cases.
Jane, for Homes Victoria, told the VCAT hearing the agency had begun demolition and preparation works in advance of main works beginning next year at the Barak Beacon estate.
She said the new estate would have a minimum of a “10 per cent uplift” in social housing units, and said Kell’s refusal to leave was delaying the construction of apartments that could house vulnerable people.
“We are delayed,” she said. “We are looking to mitigate the extent of any delay as we move forward.”
Any further delays could leave Homes Victoria exposed to contractual claims from its demolition crews, she said.
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