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Public housing tenants battle for new locks on doors

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Missing locks on main doors at the Dight Street walk-ups in Collingwood concern residents about their safety and security. Photo: Stamatina Hasiotis

Tenants of a Collingwood public housing estate are concerned for their security because the Office of Housing does not have enough money to install new locks on the apartment blocks’ main security doors.

A majority of security doors at the Dight Street walk-ups are missing locks and handles, allowing unauthorised access to the building and leaving some residents feeling unsafe.

One tenant, who did not wish to be named, said that he had called housing security or police about drug dealers and intruders easily entering the building.

“We still see people injecting themselves in the hallway and other drug use,” he said.

The tenant said that he had contacted the Office of Housing to install new locks on several occasions and was told by the Department of Housing and Human Services (DHHS) that funds were not available for new locks to be installed.

City of Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly said he had written to Housing Minister Martin Foley about the issue and was told that funding had been approved.

But Cr Jolly said he and the residents were subsequently informed that there was no funding available for new locks.

“There was some money put aside by the Minister for Housing, by his department, and then we were told that there was no funding available,” Cr Jolly said.

Mr Foley’s office declined to comment on the matter.

A spokesperson from the DHHS said that the Department of Health and Human Services takes security issues seriously and funds a range of services across the Estate, including foot patrols, mobile patrols and CCTV cameras at various locations.

“The department also works closely with Victoria Police to promote tenant safety”, the spokesperson said.

“While access to the foyer of some apartment blocks is locked and is limited to tenants with a key, foyer doors are often propped open.  Locks are also vandalised and regularly replaced.”

Following an inspection of the premises with a Housing Office representative, Cr Jolly, a senior officer and council director, it was suggested [by whom?]that installing new locks would be redundant if in the future they would be removed or disabled.

Joanne Murdoch, director Advocacy and Engagement at the City of Yarra, said the main issue was tenants removing or disabling the locks and then putting rocks in the doorways to prevent them from closing.

“They’re not faulty locks, they’re not locks that over time have broken; they’re actually being disabled, so people keep the doors open,” Ms Murdoch said.

Ms Murdoch says that the problem is “quite complex” because some residents were trying to keep the doors open, while others wanted them locked.

“If you replaced all the locks would the same thing happen again with the new locks because people actually want them open?” she said.

Cr Jolly said that department was displaying a lack of duty of care towards their mainstay residents.

“It’s disrespectful and it’s unsafe for residents. The DHHS in Collingwood should really be hanging their head in shame and it may come to the need for some type of protest,” he said.

Ms Murdoch says that while the tenants are Yarra residents, they were also tenants of the state’s department of housing.

“From council’s point of view, our role is an advocacy role and we’ve met with DHHS to advocate on behalf of the few residents that came along to the council meeting,” she said.

Cr Jolly said residents would use their votes next year against any candidate in the election who was refusing to fix the problem.

“In the more immediate period then, they may have to organise a protest on the estate to get more pressure on the local MP and the housing minister, Martin Foley,” Cr Jolly said.

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Tina Hasiotis is a writer and researcher based in Melbourne, Australia. G'day.

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