Saturday, March 17, 2012

Case Study: Something smelly in Queensland

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.

Kind Regards,

Helen Wedlake
(on behalf of Helen Underwood)

-----Original Message-----
Subject: Elder Abuses in Public Housing

Dear Premier,
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.

Elder Abuses
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
adhere 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.

Yours sincerely,

Helen Wedlake
(on behalf of Helen Underwood)



  1. There are some abuses in public housing in the Chermside Housing Service Centre that are just too ridiculous for words and utter nonsense.

    2 elderly 80 yr old tenants being threatened with eviction for feeding magpies very recently hiding anomyously behind telephones as the threats are delivered.

    Russell's 82 year old mother is quite distressed by the threats of two weeks notice for eviction if she tries or persists in feeding the birds. It has caused her stress, anxiety and sleeplessness.

    It is appalling misuse of power and so called ability to mediate fairly and with consideration to the mental and holistic well being of our elders. You would have to be mental to find twittering by birds offensive as opposed to joyful especially when the Albany Creek residential complex fronts a busy highway with traffic noise. Again it is Chermside Housing, the bad apple of Public Housing. Contact with nature has a powerful impact on happiness and well being. The complaining tenant should have been referred to a Councilor to teach her tolerance and kindness to others. Interesting comment, no names associated with threats to evict.

    Helen (Public Housing Tenant)

  2. One of my neighbours was threatened with eviction because of the fire alarm inspectors.

    We are all supposed to get a letter from Housing telling us they are coming. No such letter arrived and the "so-called" inspectors turned up unannounced to clean and inspect the smoke alarms. They could have been anyone!
    My neighbour sent them away saying they need to get a letter from Housing first.
    Well, they turned up the following morning - again unannounced. Same reaction - "get a letter from Housing". He then rang Housing and said he was not letting them in until he had received an official letter stating which company would be attending and a window of time.

    The letter arrived - along with a CTTT letter stating that the eviction process had begun because he was "refusing entry" and he would be required to attend the CTTT.

    He arranged an inspection date with the smoke alarm people, they came, they did their thing and they left.

    BUT - Housing still proceeded with the eviction!!

    What a balls up! And what a waste of time, money and energy. They put a good tenant through agony because of their procedural stuff up.

    Luckily the CTTT is not so brain-dead and the case was dismissed.

    1. A number of tenants in the Chermside area received what purported to be an entry notice (unsigned)by the Smoke alarm contractor - I allowed them to inspect for health and safety reasons then issued a Form 11 breach notice to both Housing Qld and the Contractor, advising Housing it was an illegal inspection and as such they could not do another inspection inside three months. Housing did not respond and it is time for the next 6mthly smoke alarm tests - There has not been any contact at this stage.

  3. im stones corner office and it seems we are almost as bad as chermside..... i have seen wheelchair bound single people given units with lawns all round which they cant mow or afford to have mowed.. units destroyed by single mums twice and still they gave her a 3 bed house.... a single gay man housed in a 2 bed unit.... a man straight from prison, single housed in a 2 bed unit... an immigrant single woman housed in a 2 bed unit..... lifts put into new development when a slight change in design would have meant there would have been no need for a lift which incidentally stalled the occupancy by 7 months... and so it goes on housing is rotton from the top to the bottom and the branches like fitout and design are so incompetent they wouldnt have jobs in the private sector jbw

  4. In reply I have also experienced trouble with housing in regards to feeding magpies and other birds out of my hand they told me to stop or I would be asked to leave. So I rang the City Council of Brisbane, They told me there where no law against me feeding the birds and I rang housing and told that there where no Law against me feeding birds out of hand.

  5. I have a neighbour who has been using sexual behaviour to ruin the peace and quiet enjoyment and cause much distress to visitors and those living near him for 13 years plus but he is allowed to get away with it. We charged him with indecent exposure for puttng on one of his shows when a female vistor dropped me off home one evening. He plead guilty and they ignored it. He masturbates so loud that you can hear it houses away and he does it at 5am in the morning. Even other men are disgusted. We wanted him moved away from women but the Queensland Department and even the Minister has ignored the request. He is not so mentally incompedent he does not know what he is doing is not wrong, he does a lot of things to annoy people like smashing my car with a tyre iron wrapped in a towel.
    I never know if I am safe when I get in my car.
    If you complain about the gardening contractors not doing their jobs they tell them and then you get bullied from that area as well and they refuse to do the gardening.

    1. These people know they can get away with it - Housing do nothing but blame the victim.
      One of the senior complexes I lived in - the unit I moved into had been vacant for 2yrs and immediately on my occupation and using the vacant car space the senile geriatrics one would never reason with and their mature age children, took up petitions on day one of occupying the unit taking these to the local member and the premier - they didn't have this extra car space to use - saw shocking abuse,smashed car windscreens, the car broken in to, keys dragged along the sides of the cares, slashed tyres, gardens destroyed, vandalised, urinated on - I didn't stand a chance. Their words were 'you cannot prove a thing and mediation is not compulsory. All Housing did was continue the blame game of myself (perpetuating and compounding a very defamatory profile) being the instigator of the neighbourhood dispute. When there is a neighbourhood dispute this allows Housing to walk away - It is contact the police (again you run up against the stigmatised profile of public housing tenants) and attend mediation (not compulsory).

  6. How bad is it when the public servants find abuse necessary, especially when the lies and underhanded dealings start to surface? It's so often evidenced as the first line of defense at the North Brisbane office. Such confidence with their machinery of cover-up, political friendships and their ability to malign the truth leave many victims scared to speak out.

    Our governments vocalize about stopping bullying in schools but continually ignore what occurs to our disadvantaged public when people are forced to turn to them for help.

    To both Helens: Good on you for standing up to these abusers. I hope you receive a successful outcome without further victimization.

  7. OMG I can fully empathise with this situation My family are being theatened and im talking direct threats to our lives it got so severe the I had to go to police severval times, then took report to housing, NOTHING like you said abuse of power.I ended up putting in for a mutal swap thinking i can at least get away from these monsters and was rejected due to a small outstanding money owed to housing over 10 years ago go figure. Thank God for people like Helen. Let the people in Housing Dept live in our shoes for a while they would not last a day.

  8. Public Housing is affordable housing, I think the rents are too high. Also there should be security lights on properties at night. Also Landlords and maintenance workers should not be allowed to enter your home without you being there. Inspections of properties every three months is too often. Housing and workers should learn too respect tenants.

  9. Housing appear to think that they are a law unto their own and have no regard for anything
    I too have only been the housing system for a short part of my life due to moving from Melbourne to care for my grandmother and then gaining custody of my young granddaughter Due to a family dispute of my grandmother and father and of which I was a witness and would not support her in lies she tried to take out a false protection order on me which failed and then take my father to court with lies and government funded solicitors which also failed She evicted me and my granddaughter who was 7 and I ended up in Transitional Housing I had cared for her for 7 years and left my job as I found it difficult to cope with her and a young child and career I am now evicted from Transitional Housing as my needs were deemed medium because I went on a Carers Pension for my son who lives next door in Private Rent Due to his recent behaviour with substance abuse issues and continual arrests I chose not to care for him any longer as it was a fine line bettween support and enabling him all of which was documented in support letters so my income has gone down I am now accused of creating my own homelessness and they want to ring my son's solicitor to verify the information again a breach of his privacy It is a ridiculous situation as what they are asking me to do with private rent is crazy but apparently sensible to them
    I was asked to get references from my GP and social worker to support my rental applications they dont do this and dont agree with what housing is asking anyway that I pay up to 40% of my income in rent without utilities My granddaughter is on a Family Court Order from Victoria so cant be transferred to Qld and yet if they make me homeless she goes to foster care apparently I just think if I cant resolve all of this they can take me to court and let a magistrate make sense of their behaviour it doesnt make sense to me at all

  10. what the housing commision fail to remeber is the public support them, these public servents are employed by the hardworking tax payer, yet there attitude towards public is disgracful

  11. now i work for my home and everyday i see these tenants sit out the front and drink all day at my expense, i tell you people, they win everytime

  12. A new rule introduced by he Newman government....Housing Qld

    Regarding rent

    Household members who receive no income, a very low income or who cannot have their
    income identified or verified, will be imputed an income based on a benchmark payment,
    regardless of whether the household member is in receipt of any income or income support
    payment/s. This is referred to as ‘imputed income’.

    This means that a household member who is unemployed (living off savings) therefore getting no money from work or Centrelink, will be 'imputed' to be earning the unemployment benefit, so the rent is adjusted to this level even though the money is not coming into the household.

    What the Qld government are saying, is

    register for the dole@$249.00 per week so that we can take $70 rent from you.

    Wouldn't it be better for the government to forego the rent and save $249.00 per week?

    1. Same applies in NSW. There is a case of a person who got a compensation payout for severe injuries from a car accident and no longer qualified for Centrelink. Living off the lumpsum they technically had no income but Housing calculated their rent as if they were.

  13. Ann
    My daughter was in community housing through .....and when she was moving out I helped her. We cleaned the unit thoroughly. She had only been there a short time and they were brand new when she moved in. Bric had the Bond claim form filled out in their name, so I explained it is the tennant who claims the bond. .....said they would have to have the carpet cleaned and take cost off the bond refund.(only carpet was in her small bedroom) I gave them my downloaded form filled out in my daughters name to claim full refund and said we would have carpet cleaned. On the day of inspection they couldn't find anything wrong so they then tried tosay that because she had a cat they would have to charge her to fumegate the unit. I pointed out that it was not a condition on the contract and in the end they had to sign the form so my daughter got bond back. My daughter had intellectual disability and if I was not able to help her she would get ripped off all the time.
    I am very distressed ny the way the low income and disabled are treated by the organisations which are meant to be there to help them.

  14. Pleade contact me about my housing housing abuse and need to fight for my peaceful enjoyment, I have documentation of everhthing.

    1. Taffy, this blog is set up to educate and empower themselves to act through the proper legal channels. Perhaps a Tenant Advisory Service in your state would be better equipped to help you.


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