Each year, hundreds of millions of dollars are invested into government homes inhabited by those less fortunate. Thanks to the taxpayer’s dollar, some of society’s most vulnerable are granted this chance. But while Queenslanders slave away in their day-jobs week after week, month after month, these homes are left empty. Public tenants who have waited months and years for their government homes are beckoned away for holidays.
This month the government revealed that public tenants were absent from their homes for an average of 171 days last financial year. While these tenants take breaks for as a long as 12 months at a time, with rent as cheap as $10.95 per week, approximately 22 000 families remain on the public housing waiting list.
Single mother, Annette Jones is just one of the 22 000 applicants on the list. Having lived in the bushy hills of Upper Brookfield for over ten years in nothing more than a bus and a shelter, Annette feels it is time for a change. She says she will miss her slice of paradise in the west of Brisbane, but with her son quickly approaching high school, the convenience of a suburban life is looking increasingly good.
“Somewhere where my younger son, who’s eleven, can get computer access, because we can’t get computer access, we haven’t got a home phone,” she said.
“And not having to get up out of bed and worry about stepping on a brown or a black snake; having centipedes crawling up over the mosquito net trying to get into bed with me, and bush turkeys coming inside and doing number two’s all over my furniture.”
Until now, Annette was unaware of the abuse in the public housing system. With an expected wait of at least two years for a home, she was disappointed to think that empty, unattainable houses are scattered across the state at this moment.
“If you can afford to take a year off anyway, then you can probably afford to be in a normal rental situation,” she said.”
The Queensland Government are now reviewing the rules surrounding long term leave in public housing. Minister for housing and public works Tim Mander says he is determined crack down on this issue.
“It’s one thing to allow an extended absence if someone is undergoing a lengthy stay in hospital or a rehab facility but it’s completely inappropriate to apply the same rules to people who are absent because they’re in prison or who just want to take a lengthy holiday,” Mr Mander said.
Exactly what changes are to be made and when, won’t be revealed until the review is complete. However the minister is sure that the current criteria will be tightened.
“The Government has a responsibility to provide safe and affordable accommodation for Queensland’s most vulnerable residents and it’s a job we take very seriously,” he said.
The key focus area in the review will be the length of time that tenants can be absent from their homes, but the minister also intends to review the weekly rent amount for tenants who are on leave. Currently the rent can reach as little as $10.95 per week.
“It defies common sense to allow absentee tenants to retain properties by paying such absurdly low rent,” he said.
“Last year the department invested $387.3 million to deliver new social housing dwellings.”
Mr Mander says he hopes these dwellings will be lived in, not left absent, and he is not the only one. Annette’s vision for the future includes a permanent investment in a home.
“I know that you can get that opportunity to purchase through the department of housing and that’s what I’d like to be able to do eventually,” Annette said.
But for now it’s the bus, the bush turkeys and the rent for Annette Jones and her sons.