Political campaigners delivered a sharp rebuke to the NSW Government and the Minister for Family and Community Services over suggestions Glebe Youth Service (GYS) was responsible for the maintenance of its property following its sudden eviction due to a fire safety assessment.
GYS, which provides financial support, meals and housing assistance to disadvantaged people in Glebe, was notified of its eviction a matter of hours before it had to vacate.
“[We were evicted] because of the failure of a fire inspection. My manager was notified on Wednesday and by Wednesday afternoon at 4pm we were asked to leave and the locks were changed that night,” said Amy O’Neill, a social worker at GYS.
“We had been there for many years and they had never conducted fire inspections – any inspections actually. It was only just recently, which is why it’s a surprise because we didn’t see it coming.”
The Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) said a fire safety assessment lead to the immediate eviction of GYS and highlighted the youth service’s responsibility in ensuring the building met fire safety standards.
“Following a fire safety assessment the FACS felt it necessary to request immediate vacancy while efforts got underway to find GYS alternative accommodation,” said a FACS spokesperson.
“Under the terms of the peppercorn lease provided to GYS (a rent of $1 per annum), all general maintenance was the responsibility of the tenant.”
However, Ms O’Neill disputed that claim.
“That is not what we’ve been informed and we’ve asked that question quite a few times to Housing NSW, because that is what our concern was that we had been negligent, but they have admitted that it was actually their responsibility because they are the owners of the building,” she said.
The former manager of GYS, Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne, accused Housing NSW of an ongoing failure to properly maintain its properties, dating back to his own involvement with the youth service.
“The suggestion from the department that they are not responsible for the maintenance of their own building is absurd and irresponsible,” he said. “The O’Farrell Government and Minister Goward are inescapably responsible for the maintenance of properties that the government owns.
Mr Byrne said the GYS episode was symptomtatic of a broader problem of Housing NSW not investing enough in the upkeep and repair of its buildings.
Greens MP Jamie Parker told City Hub the fire safety risk was not a maintenance issue but a structural issue involving the trusses in the ceiling that hold the walls together. It means the building is liable to collapse if on fire for two hours.
“That is a structural issue and that is squarely the responsibility of the Department of Housing,” said Mr Parker. He called on the government to provide funding to repair the building.
“What I have heard very clearly in the meetings I’ve had with them is that it is very expensive and they will be doing a cost benefit analysis to determine whether or not they will be maintaining the building and then returning it to the GYS, or whether they will sell it.”
Ms O’Neill said it was a particularly difficult time to organise a solution because so many families are going away for the school holiday period.
“It feels a little suspicious that it has been done at this time of year,” she said.
GYS will temporarily relocate to a nearby terrace. A rally will be held outside Glebe Markets on Saturday at 11am.