Urine through the light sockets and black mould: The state of public housing

About half the windows were boarded up when <i>The New Daily</i> visited on Tuesday.

About half the windows were boarded up when The New Daily visited on Tuesday. Photo: The New Daily/ Rachel Eddie

Urine dripping through the ceiling light sockets, a kitchen “beyond economical repair due to water rot”, black mould and a bio-hazard warning for human faeces.

These were some of the maintenance issues at Gronn Place public housing in Melbourne’s Brunswick West, one of 11 low-rise estates that will be demolished and rebuilt under Victoria’s Public Housing Renewal Program.

The New Daily has obtained hundreds of pages of maintenance logs under Freedom of Information, one revealing in October 2016: “Tennant [sic] has water and urine coming thru light fitting in the bathroom, coming through ceiling from above unit [sic].”

Labor announced the renewals in early December 2016 as a means of renovating the ageing low-rise blocks while increasing social housing stock by at least 10 per cent for each estate.

There are still 47 people living at Gronn Place, down from 147 people at 82 units in 2017.

The remaining residents are expected to be rehoused by the middle of the year before construction begins.

Meanwhile, about half the block’s windows are already boarded up.

The New Daily investigated whether conditions have worsened in the lead-up to Gronn Place being demolished.

An analysis of 13 months of maintenance records – covering June 2016 to June 2017, before anyone had moved out – revealed tradespeople visited the units less frequently in the months after the announcement.

One repair log suggested as much in February 2017: “As the property is approved for future upgrade, so no major works will be approved. Please replace or repair the window sash/winder to fix it temporally [sic].”

Residents didn’t all necessarily agree, however, when The New Daily visited Gronn Place on Tuesday.

public housing renewal program maintenance records

One maintenance log from October 2016 described urine coming through the ceiling light fittings.

There were also fewer repairs in the month of June 2016 and it is possible tenants coincidentally later made fewer maintenance requests.

The grass was freshly mowed when The New Daily visited on Tuesday. Plants had been pruned, and a cleaner was on site.

A resident said the department had just cleared whitegoods from the car park – dumped by people who don’t live there – but hard rubbish could still be seen strewn across the site.

Squatters have become a problem at the empty units, and security is said to attend frequently.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has removed taps and other fittings and screwed front doors shut to discourage squatters.

Repair works

Most of the maintenance records refer to general work, like broken appliances and heating, jammed doors, broken windows, plumbing and water damage.

But some of the records show tenants were sometimes housed in shocking conditions, and the government admits the properties fell into disrepair.

“We said we’d redevelop these ageing, rundown sites to build more public housing for those who need it – and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Planning Minister Richard Wynne said.

One log recorded the removal of three square metres of rubbish and included a bio-hazard warning for human faeces.

Black mould was found throughout one bathroom, causing its mirror to turn black.

“The cupboard in the troilet [sic] is rotting in its base … splashback behind the basin has black mould underneath it … mirror in the toilet is turning black,” the report said. “Mould is underneath the bath seal.”

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There are 47 people still living at Gronn Place. Photo: The New Daily/ Rachel Eddie

Blocked drains came up frequently, often causing flooding that sometimes came through the ceiling and light sockets into the flats below.

“Water leaking into light socket and tripping power,” one record said.

“Bathtub is blocked and the water is backflowing and is half way up the bathtub and has a strong smell of sewerage,” another said, finding hair had blocked the drain.

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Hard rubbish and abandoned furniture is pictured in a hallway on Tuesday. Photo: The New Daily/ Rachel Eddie

A similar case was blamed on tree roots: “Work instructions: blockages throughout – water waste coming up outside laundry –tenant cannot exit via rear due to leak.”

One bathtub drain was blocked seven times in nine months.

Two families told The New Daily they frequently had plumbing issues and smelled sewage.

In one unit, tenants had no way of bathing because the bath taps and shower head were broken.

Pest control was called in according to one maintenance log “as cockroaches are affecting alarms”, and a gas pipe was described as leaking in the front yard.

One family said they noticed non-urgent repairs being ignored, while two other families said the department was still very responsive.

“Because they don’t want to move, they’re finding fault in every little thing,” a woman who had lived at Gronn Place for more than 15 years, and did not want to be named, told The New Daily.

“Housing has done an amazing job, considering what they’re working with.”

DHHS said its gardening and cleaning contracts were continuing.

“The estate is inspected three times a week and any issues identified are addressed as soon as possible,” a spokesperson said.

Renewal program

There will be at least 91 public units built at the new Gronn Place estate, replacing 82. The rest of the site will be privately owned apartments.

Tenants are being offered a range of properties for accommodation, and are promised the option of moving back to Gronn Place once it’s rebuilt.

However, the new units will have fewer bedrooms overall, reducing their capacity to house families.

The DHHS annual report from 2017-18 said 87.9 per cent of all social housing tenants were satisfied with completed urgent maintenance works, above the target of 85 per cent.

For non-urgent maintenance works, 71.6 per cent of tenants were satisfied, below the target of 80 per cent, mostly due to increased requests for gas heater maintenance after safety concerns were raised.

There were 82,499 people on Victoria’s public housing waitlist in March last year.

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