Housing tenants in Bowenfels wait months, years for vital repairs

"WE PAY THE RENT": The Gavins have been looking out onto a house destroyed by a fire for four months and waiting for a gutter to be replaced for 6 years. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY.
"WE PAY THE RENT": The Gavins have been looking out onto a house destroyed by a fire for four months and waiting for a gutter to be replaced for 6 years. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY.

Frank Butler and John Opera of Stewart Street, Bowenfels, have had a major win. After months of complaining to the Department of Family and Community Services about the rising damp in their conjoined units a plumber came out on Monday to lay down drainage pipes in their front yard.

It may not sound exciting but it’s the end of a battle that has had consequences for both men.

Frank and John have been sleeping in their lounge rooms for five months because the carpet in their bedrooms was damp and the temperatures at night unbearable. Clothes from Frank’s bedroom were covered in mould.

“I couldn’t sleep in the bedroom because it was so cold because of the moisture coming up. I went back in there but I’m still not sleeping well,” Frank said.

THE BIG WAIT: Leeanne Jackson waited two years for FACS maintenance to replace her rotten door but they didn't replace the frame. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY.

THE BIG WAIT: Leeanne Jackson waited two years for FACS maintenance to replace her rotten door but they didn't replace the frame. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY.

“The water runs down from the park and goes under the house which comes up and wets the carpet.”

In John’s unit the carpet throughout the house is still wet.

“It’s brutal in here. It’s the dampness, it really gets you.”

The pair notified FACS maintenance about the rising damp four-and-a-half months ago, impatient to resolve the issue in the winter weather.

Since then John Opera has been hospitalised twice for double pneumonia.

“I think the house definitely helped. I have never had it before,” he said.

During the eighteen weeks it’s taken for a plumber to come to the house, Frank and John contacted FACS head office in Ashfield, applied for a transfer at the FACS community service centre in Penrith and got in touch with the Combined Superannuants and Pensioners Association, who wrote a letter to the housing minister about the issue.

The pair are optimistic now the drainage pipes have gone down but are concerned other public housing tenants in Bowenfels are suffering in silence.

"IT'S BEEN A BATTLE": John Opera and Frank Butler have been sleeping in their lounge rooms for five months. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY.

"IT'S BEEN A BATTLE": John Opera and Frank Butler have been sleeping in their lounge rooms for five months. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY.

“It’s been a battle, it’s something we shouldn’t have to do. They should have just come out straight away and fixed this,” Frank Butler said. 

“It’s taken its toll on John, with hospital and illness. It’s no joy trip. It’s like, ‘oh well, we'll get around to it’.”

A couple living in a Housing property on Andrew Street have been waiting for the neighbouring house, which was destroyed in a fire, to be demolished. The house was fully lined with asbestos. After four months, it was demolished on Wednesday. 

A contractor working on the asbestos removal and demolition said the house was sprayed with PVA glue immediately after the fire. A spokesperson from FACS said the process had been closely regulated and was being undertaken in accordance with Safe Work NSW requirements.

NEIGHBOURS: The Gavins have been living next to a house destroyed in a fire for four months. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY.

NEIGHBOURS: The Gavins have been living next to a house destroyed in a fire for four months. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY.

But the Galvins were concerned parts of the structure, which was left exposed with furniture and clothing inside, would blow onto their property or fall on someone.

“We’ve seen kids going in there, the worst thing would be if it collapsed on them,” Heather Galvin said.

They are all too used to waiting. A leaking gutter, positioned above their front steps, has not been replaced for six years. This concerns the couple because Mr Galvin has mobility issues that make getting down the steps difficult. The couple have used the back steps of the house twice since moving in 27 years ago because they say the stairs are too unstable and have never been replaced. 

WAITING: Alice Hook waited for two years to resolve a leak in her bedroom. A panel was replaced but the wall still leaks water when there's wind and rain. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY.

WAITING: Alice Hook waited for two years to resolve a leak in her bedroom. A panel was replaced but the wall still leaks water when there's wind and rain. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY.

“It’s like Housing doesn’t care about us. We are disappointed. We looked after this house, treat it as if it’s our own,” Ms Galvin said.

“We’re too old to move.” 

Leeanne Jackson who lives by herself on the same street waited two years for her  back door to be replaced but the rotten door frame, which continues leaks rain inside, was not replaced. 

“There is that much space between the frame and the door it doesn’t lock properly,” she said.

Alice Hook who lives on Catherine Street says she has reported a number of issues to Housing, which have not been satisfactorily resolved.

HOLE: Alice Hook found this hole under a concrete slab upon which she used to rest a bench.

HOLE: Alice Hook found this hole under a concrete slab upon which she used to rest a bench.

“I am trying to take care of the house,” she said.

“It just makes you feel like scum.”

A FACS spokesperson said they are trying to address maintenance issues and encouraged Lithgow residents to contact the maintenance line.

“FACS is doing more work overall to improve and maintain public housing. Over 700,000 maintenance jobs were undertaken last financial year (2016/17), a 14% increase on the previous year. In 2017/18, approximately $500 million is expected to be spent on maintaining and improving public housing,” the spokesperson said.