11 Nov 2019 News

Community Housing saved by people power

Story Credit: Sandi Miller, Warrandyte Diary

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Chris “Chewy Padham (WCA), Therese Dawson (WCA), Ryan Smith MP, Carli Lange-Boutle ( WCA President), Sonja Terpstra MP, Sgt Stewart Henderson, Warwick Leeson (WCA) John Hanson (WCA) and Dick Davies (WCA). Source: Warrandyte Diary

Community groups scrambled to save Warrandyte’s Emergency Housing in Police Street after the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) placed the building up for sale.

President of the Warrandyte Community Association, Carli Lange-Boutle contacted the Diary following the news that the Old Warrandyte Police House was for sale. However, a week after it was placed on the market, the Minister for Housing, Richard Wynne, had a change of heart and intervened to stop the sale. A spokesperson for the Director of Housing, said: “The Minister for Housing has carefully considered the matter and agrees that this site remains public housing.

“He has requested the Department to take the property off the market and ensure it remains in public hands to provide a safe place for Victorians who need a roof over their heads.” The spokesperson said the Department will now get on with the job of completing the necessary work to refurbish the property so it is fit for tenancy.

Ms Lange-Boutle said: “ This community win for a community service is a combined effort from all people involved, especially the representatives from five community groups — Warrandyte Community Association, Warrandyte/Donvale Rotary, Now & Not Yet, Warrandyte Police,  Warrandyte Riverside Market and support from Park Orchards Ratepayers Association, Warrandyte Diary and Doncare, as well as support and assistance from Warrandyte Liberal MP Ryan Smith, Eastern Region Labor MP Sonja Terpstra MP and Labor candidate Stella Yee.

Warrandyte Police OIC, Sergeant Stewart Henderson, said he did some detective work when the property became vacant and discovered that DHHS was considering selling the property. “When the previous tenants vacated I asked around to see who the next tenants were but didn’t get much of a response, then I discovered that it was going to be sold, so I contacted a few people and talked to people at local events … and the snowball started  from there,” he said.

After being contacted by members of the community, both the Member for Warrandyte Ryan Smith and Member for Eastern Metropolitan Sonja Terpstra petitioned the Minister to keep the building in public hands.

The Old Warrandyte Police House Emergency Housing Support Service was community managed by Margory Lapworth but was given to  DHHS when she became ill, under the agreement that it was used for short-term emergency housing for Manningham and Nillumbik residents.

Before the building was used for emergency housing it was the residence attached to Warrandyte Police Station — Officer in Charge of the police station from 1992-2011, Keith Walker lived in the station when it was considered a country station, however Mr Walker said that he was disgusted when, in 1996, the Kennett Government sold off more than 100 houses attached to Police Stations and State Parks. He said it caused a huge disruption to him and his family given he was ordered to live in the house when he took the position, so sold the family home in Croydon, only to be effectively evicted three years later when the government sold it off. “I was delighted to see the support of the community rally to keep the house in the community at that time.”

He said the property was transferred to another Government department and given to Margory Lapworth to manage on their behalf.

“It was supposed to be used for emergency housing for the local community, and it did do that for a while when a family moved in after their house burnt down, but from therein it never seemed to follow the rule, in that there was a tenant who lived there for 15-plus years. However, he said he was disturbed that when the last round of tenants left, the property had to be decontaminated.

“Where was the DHHS to let it get to that condition?” he asked. However, Mr Walker said he is very pleased that people have managed to save it again. Ms Lange-Boutle says that the WCA was “furious” that the property had been placed on the market “without any community consultation” but she says that she is “ecstatic to the point of tears” that community action has delivered such a great result.

The DHHS originally advised that it applied to the Minister of Planning to sell the property because DHHS resources do not allow for them to manage the property when they have areas with a much higher housing demand than Warrandyte.
However, Ms Lang-Boutle says the need for emergency housing is not based on the affluence of the town — the need for short-term emergency housing can affect anyone.

“Divorce, house fire, loss of employment, death of a spouse, it can happen to anyone at any time,” she said “To have the ability to stay within our community can be a major benefit, particularly for people with school-aged children,” she said.

Sgt Henderson says the property’s proximity to the police station allows the police members to foster good relationships with the tenants. He said the whole community came together to support the children of the last family of tenants, with relationships fostered with the Community Church, the football club and local businesses.

Former Labor candidate, Stella Yee has been investigating the social need in the area and says, “there is a significant need for social services in the community”.

According to Doncare’s 2018 annual report, the Manningham based charity provided 3,325 cases of assistance under the category of Emergency Relief Services. Sgt Henderson said that there is need in the local community. “The people who are in need are often embarrassed about it, so there is need, it is just not in your face,” he said.

When the WCA first learned of the plan to sell the property, they set up an Emergency Housing Support Service (EHSS) Task Force to stop the sale. Ms Lange-Boutle tells us this task force will now be submitting a business plan for the community to manage the property. She floated the idea of a Men’s Shed being established and based in the building while they carry out the refurbishment to make the property suitable for tenancy.

Sgt Henderson thinks that a Men’s Shed is a really needed program. “Mental health for men is a big issue, he said,” I think that would be a brilliant opportunity.”

In a letter obtained by the Diary, Member for Warrandyte, Ryan Smith said in September, the “Department has advised that there are significant maintenance issues, including structural work, graffiti removal, rodent infestation and methamphetamine residue to be cleaned up — this work was estimated to cost up to $200,000”.

The property has since been cleaned up enough to put on the market, but there is still much more work required to make it fit for tenancy.

Mr Smith was originally advised by the Planning Minster that it was not an option to retain the premises once the work was done, “as it is deemed to be too old to continue to remain in public hands, with the preference to purchase new stock”. However, the pressure from the community has, happily, changed the Minister’s mind and the building is now going to be able to continue supporting vulnerable people in our community in the years to come.