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Plans to move homeless out after backlash at luxury Abbotsford apartment

Dozens of formerly homeless Victorians who were given a place to live in a lavish inner-city apartment building will be moved out after other residents complained of threats, public drug taking, and violence.

Earlier this year, as part of a $150 million program to house homeless people who had spent the pandemic in hotels, the Andrews government bought 55 apartments at the newly developed Park House building complex on Victoria Street in Abbotsford.

The Park House – Riverbank apartment buildings in Abbotsford.Credit:Justin McManus

The program has rehoused vulnerable members of the community but from the point of view of other residents it has not been a success.

“The first encounter was when someone threatened to kill me outside the building,” said one Park House resident, who spoke to The Age on the condition of anonymity due to fears for his physical safety.

“The drugs and the violence and the screaming at all hours – it’s really taken a toll on me and I wake up in the night with anxiety.”

The resident said that while he supported the principle of the scheme, his experience living alongside clients from the homelessness program had been “horrendous”.

“Looking out my window I’ve seen domestic abuse – a man walking out the building holding a woman’s neck and pushing her down,” he said, describing an incident caught on video and seen by The Age.

“There’s people [not residents] injecting outside the building with makeshift syringes out of bottle caps”.

The man, who has rented a two-bedroom apartment in one of the two buildings at the complex since early 2020 said mail and food deliveries were regularly tampered with since the clients moved in. He said his housemate’s bike had been stolen and police attendances were regular.

Another resident, who also wished to remain anonymous and pays $2300 a month in rent for a two-bedroom apartment, said someone had tried to force their way into his apartment and screamed homophobic abuse at him.

“It was great when I moved in [seven months ago]… but it’s turned into a shit show,” he said.

He said existing residents were furious at the situation with renters unable to break leases and owner-occupiers worried about their investments. The resident said there was no consultation before the building was bought by Homes Victoria.

“They totally blindsided all of us,” he said. “It’s fine to have a portion of the apartments as housing commission but you indeed to make sure it’s a good match with the current environment and living conditions.”

The government has been praised for the money poured into homelessness services during the pandemic, temporarily housing rough sleepers at risk of COVID-19 in hotels before offering them permanent housing through the From Homeless to a Home program.

Melbourne’s homeless population were offered hotel rooms to protect them from COVID as the pandemic took hold.Credit:Paul Jeffers

The program uses a progressive “housing first” model which aims to get a roof over someone’s head as quickly as possible before addressing any other mental health or substance use issues and has so far transitioned 1600 out of more than 18,000 people into a stable home.

But sources close to the program, who are not permitted to speak publicly, say the government’s rush to move high-needs people out of costly temporary accommodation has led to some being placed in unsuitable housing.

“The idea [of From Homeless to a Home] from a strategic perspective is pretty genius,” the source said. “But the execution has failed on so many different levels.”

“Maybe the inner-city isn’t a place that is as inviting to this clientele as we thought it was, or maybe some people that will have been sleeping rough aren’t ready to be in independent living. It needs to be reassessed.”

In a letter to residents, seen by The Age, housing developer Salta said it was now in negotiations with the state government to buy back the 55 apartments.

But no timeline has been given to residents, and a source working close to the program said vulnerable tenants are now being dragged through VCAT and in some cases were ending up back in hotels with their trust in authorities breached. Some are weighing up whether to fight to stay in the building.

A spokesman for the government said 28 of the 55 apartments bought by the Director of Housing earlier this year were occupied, and that some residents would be relocated to “secure long-term housing”.

The spokesman said the purchases of apartments in high-density buildings had “proved challenging for people moving back into a home for the first time in a long time”, but said no renters would be left without a home.

Neither the government nor developers would confirm how much public money was spent on the purchases which are located in Housing Minister Richard Wynne’s electorate, but now-archived public listings seen by The Age show a one-time purchase of $11.78 million at the complex in March this year.

A spokeswoman for Launch Housing, the housing provider assisting the homeless clients at Park House, said the organisation had no say in which properties were chosen for the program and would now need to find different housing again for their clients.

“There is a risk in this change to our clients who have just started to experience the benefits of stable housing,” she said.

Park House Building management declined to comment, while developer Salta said it has engaged onsite security and installed CCTV cameras.

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