Sinking feeling - anger mounts as public housing project sinks into the abyss

TAXPAYERS could be hit with a multi-million dollar repair bill after revelations a controversial public housing project in Moree was literally sinking into the ground.

The state government has been forced to admit the ten unit blocks – all built without council approval on Moree’s notoriously shifty black soil – had “severe structural issues” and would require a complete plumbing overhaul.

The majority of residents in the more than 60 units will be relocated, possibly at taxpayers’ expense, to other parts of the state.

The unit blocks, all on the southern side of town, sparked outrage in the Moree community when they were built by the state Labor government in 2010 as part of the federal government’s stimulus package.

“They were building these ghettos and we fought like mad to stop it,” Moree mayor Katrina Humphries said.

“We had no say in their design or construction. Normally council has to check all footings and the depth of concrete ... we were disturbed with the designs we saw but they just pushed us to the side.

“It was the worst arrogance we’ve ever seen.

“All we can say is, we told you so.”

Problems emerged with the units almost immediately, with a block on the corner of Jones Ave and Edward St condemned in 2011 after reports of windows cracking and foundations collapsing into drainage systems.

A tenant of one of the units, who did not wish to be named, said he was disgusted at the waste of public money.

“The place was only a year old and all of a sudden assessors were turning up at the door saying our plumbing was shot and the pipes were collapsing,” he said.

“They didn’t have to have council approval and so they just went ahead and built them on black soil.

“We’ve been contacted by phone and told we urgently have to leave.

“Because there are no rentals left in Moree they’ve told us they’ll move us anywhere in the state within two weeks, even to places like Tweed Heads where there’s a 14-year waiting list.

“The tiles are going to have to be ripped up and some of the units demolished. It’s gonna cost the taxpayer a fortune.”

The repair work will start next month and is expected to be completed by August.

A Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) spokesman said the government would attempt to recoup some of the  repair costs from private firms involved in the construction.

“FACS can confirm that it plans to conduct rectification works to 62 public housing properties in Moree that were built under the National Building Program in 2010,” he said.

“The properties have sustained structural and plumbing damage due to soil subsidence.

“Approximately 40 tenants will need to be relocated and they are being offered alternative accommodation in Moree or other locations if that is what they wish and if that better suits their circumstances. FACS is also taking action to recover the costs of relocating tenants and undertaking the 

rectification work from the private sector organisations who were involved in the construction program.”

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