This is an Open Letter sent to OHS and reprinted with permission.
I am ... taking this opportunity to share with you Helen Underwood's circumstances and Helen's
sustained fight for answers to her placements in housing that was unfit or barely fit for habitation, conditions by no means an exception in the system.
<snip> As stakeholders in tenancies and housing, Helen believes that her submission to the Office of Information Commissioner and her frustrations at being stonewalled through the FOI process will give you a case study into the difficulties of accessing information as to tenancy issues under the current system of public housing and the prejudices meted out towards tenants given special access to affordability. (The less than 6% of access to her files across two years and the 'pull' effect contradicts the reforms in Queensland
on the 'push' accessibility of Government records through Freedom of Information as outlined in the Keynote Address to UNESCO WORLD PRESS FREEDOM
DAY FORUM 1, MAY 2010.)
Landlords whether they are from the private sector or from State Housing, rules and guidelines should be applied without exemptions. We have an inequity in the system between public and private landlords. Helen Underwood has experienced both systems and through her diligence and assertiveness has defied a culture of silence.
Helen has allowed me to detail, on her behalf, abuses that are unacceptable to tenancy in habitations that seriously impair the health and safety of the resident. Rather than a singular experience, the Public Housing sector appears to have a culture of breaches to its duty of care to its tenants.
Threats of homelessness are generally used to quell complaints, demands, queries and concerns by tenants rather than negotiation and resolution of mutual problems. It defies public expectations that there appears to be no standards or procedures for protection or safety measures to be implemented when the tenant is adversely threatened. In her own words Helen believes that no public housing tenant has gotten as far as she has in a sustained battle for honesty, transparency, fairness and responsibility whilst acting in her best interests and as a voice for others in her investigations into the questionable actions of Government as the Landlord.
In seeming to lose her battle in the right to access and peruse her government files Helen has turned a difficulty into an opportunity to submit a case study in the abuses experienced by Seniors in Public Housing.
Helen has valued Jemma Donaghey representation on her case. She has quoted Jemma's role in the OIC submission using an extract from a letter from the Tenants Union to the Department of Housing urging immediate compliance to the QCAT ruling to remove her from contaminated accommodation. She has
explained to the department how serious flooding with effluent inflows is, to health and safety. Landlord compliance to the QCAT ruling included to mean accommodation suited to Helen's special needs as having certain physical challenges. These were difficulties that the Department has problems actioning.
As a member of the public and part of the community Groups Friends of South East Queensland, FOSEQ, Helen's concerns are our concerns. In a letter to the Premier we have asked for consideration to be given to the Governments ability to initiate an investigation into elder abuses in public housing.
We value your authority to act for Public Opinion and in the Public Interest. I trust that in reading Helen Underwood's discussion paper as a submission of validation to the OIC that you will be able to work with Helen on these issues, conflicts, cover-ups and misalignment of the basic right to a duty of care in properties that MUST as a fundamental condition, be certified as fit for habitation and thus fit for rental payments.
(on behalf of Helen Underwood)
Subject: Elder Abuses in Public Housing
Within your budget and the scope of public housing affordability are
several community issues that go against both the intent and expectations of
MOG in regards to the portfolio under which the State of Queensland
Department of Communities (Housing and Homelessness Services) operate.
For several years I have been actively involved in pursuing the rights of
Seniors and additionally their right to protect a dependant child on an
intellectual disability pension from losing the security of a home on their
death. Elder abuses affect all of us. In my case both mother and daughter
were my friends who I saw first hand, live for years in isolation under the
threat and fears of being forcibly evicted, an eventuality that became
fact in the middle of my grief for my father's unexpected passing, in June
of last year.
I have recognized that unconscionable conduct is meted out by those who are
in a superior position over their victims. The toll it takes on their lives
is intolerable. The public ultimately are burdened with the enormous costs
of 'legalized' theft by the perpetrators. An Agribusiness career afforded me
many opportunities to become well versed in working with prejudices,
misconceptions and misalignment of information. I gained an invaluable
understanding of both good and bad governance with project and business
employment with local government. In both arenas I used the principles and
disciplines of applied science as a former graduate from UQ Gatton to make a
positive difference in outcomes within Agribusiness and to the community.
I, Helen Underwood and many of my friends and colleagues have strong views
on the issues of social injustices and are a committed voice in the
building of sustainable communities.
The Threat of Homelessness and the Responsibility of Governments
We believe that it is our obligation to give those that are disadvantaged
and on limited income, the protection, the voice and the confidence to
assert their rights, both legally and ethically, for accountability to
relatives who are able to utilize a process of 'legalized theft' to take,
from their pensions, a certain amount of rent, on what was supposed to be
the right of occupancy of their home. Your Government under the Minister
for Communities, in June last year, stated 'that enough is enough, the
millions of dollars removed without the knowledge or consent of a Senior,
through elderly financial, psychological and emotional abuses must stop.
Posters to this effect, showing an elderly man in a bed-sit room with the
caption 'are you threatened with eviction' appear on the walls of police
stations and medical centers.
Does the ability to make threats of eviction to the powerless and or
disadvantaged, rendering them homeless if they speak up and assert their
rights also apply to those charged with administration of procurement,
maintenance and repairs of 'affordable' accommodation with collection of
rent monies from pensions? To assist my case objectives Helen Underwood
freely and openly shared her research and experience with assertion of her
rights to habitable accommodation through the Department of Housing
Chermside. Helen qualified for public housing six years ago and as a State
of Public Housing recipient has suffered sustained abuses, torment, despair
and disempowerment. For two years she lived with repeated flooding and
effluent inflows into her ground floor unit in general housing. For two
years she has endured threats of being made homeless for daring to suggest
that the department does not have a right to place any person in conditions
which are inherently structural, cannot be fixed and are seemingly belonging
to a culture of governance that lacks the ability to coordinate between
departments of Government or which have health and safety standards to
This is Brisbane in 2012. How can we have Seniors exposed to serious health
issues without invoking, on notification, emergency accommodation until the
problem has been fixed?
Helen is representative of a growing number of single, senior women who are
coming into public housing yet have known better lives, living conditions
and who have the acumen and proven qualifications to research the
machinations of Government according to 'equality' under the Law. Each
public housing tenant has their own story.
It is unclear whether the Department of Office of Information Commissioner
is unable to, having difficulties or is simply unwilling to provide to
Helen, under the auspices of freedom of information, access and perusal of
her volumous case files held by Government Departments. Her patience with
the delays has been sorely tested. I can attest that Helen has taken the
unprecedented step of submitting a submission on their request. The attached
submission for OIC has enabled Helen to detail for the benefits of awareness
of issues to stakeholders and members of the community. She explains why
she is not a special case and how her the gravity of her problems and
facilitation with Public Housing stakeholders have propelled her to
tenaciously commit to being a voice and advocate for a Government that
espouses being open, transparent and accountable to the public through the
actions, communications and follow through of its public servants when
charged with the authority to implement policy through their systems,
processes and procedures.
I and members of the community, FOSEQ are sickened by the details of Helen
Underwood's case and its management by the Chermside Department of Housing.
Helen has shown an inordinate amount of determination to remove 'the blame
game' as written in a discussion paper as an advocate for improvements to
generic and inherent difficulties experienced by those who cannot articulate
their circumstances or endure the retaliatory conditions. Their fears and
suspicions masks very serious unreported abuses. Helen Underwood is a very
valuable resource to consult with Government. Her attached submission is a
discussion paper as an advocate borne out of the frustrations and concerns
she has endured.
Lessons from the Flood Inquiry
We included in this report for dissemination to stakeholders, a statement on
the flood inquiry and the courage of your Government to bring to the people
of Queensland the truth so that we are better placed to make the right
decisions. Flooding also affected the living conditions of public Housing
tenants. The responsibilities for the combination of storm-water and sewage
in flood events are now split between two entities, Brisbane City Council
and Water Utilities. There are several stakeholders. Departments in Helen
Underwood's case and in the cases of other public housing tenants require
all departments to choose to effectively work together just as the people of
Queensland have worked to-gether in confronting disasters. Such events
either bring out the best or the worse in us and must be seen as challenges
and difficulties that can be overcome and rectified.
I have attached a scoping document for the convenience of perusal as to the
areas covered in Helen Underwood's submission to OIC. I would urge you and
your Department to read her attached submission to OIC. These issues are
part of the community consciousness, issues for stakeholders and are most
definitely in the Public Interest, if we are to believe that we are a humane
Helen Underwood has applied her extensive research skills to public housing
and contractual rights, written discussion papers and has demonstrated her
courage as an advocate for better standards in Governance and Government
expenditures on Public Housing. She is a voice against stereotyping and for
compassion and empathy. What Helen has endured and identified as problems
across the last six years in bringing this to your governments attention is
heroic and most definitely in the Public Interest. No one should ever have
to live under her conditions with the alternative being a threat of
homelessness. Such abuses are intolerable and go against our expectations.
The instrument for change is Government.
We trust that you will consult with Helen Underwood. We trust that you will
be able to change responses to emergency situations that affect the health
and safety of your tenants. We trust that the circulations of this
submission draws attention to the problematic issues and challenges within
Public Housing and its duty of care to its recipients as an election issue
and incites discussion. We trust that your Government has the means, the
drive and the determination to investigate.
(on behalf of Helen Underwood)
UPDATE: CALL TO ARMS
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Case Study: Something smelly in Queensland
Posted by OHS Admin at 3:43 PM