Residents seek justice following ‘Pattern of Negligence’

It’s been four months since 200 residents of Fitzroy’s Atherton Gardens, a housing estate located at 125 Napier Street, were forced to flee their beds in the early hours of March 29 when the sixth floor of the high-rise housing estate was set ablaze.

Now residents are seeking justice for a catastrophe that they say could have been avoided and are seeking legal advice in an attempt to resolve issues with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Following the fire, the Melbourne Fire Brigade (MFB) released a report damning the Fitzroy Housing Office, citing a lack of duty of care and mentioning several faults. These included a lack of smoke alarms and sprinklers and the build-up of combustible items – like a mattress that started the blaze, that had lain for weeks on the building’s sixth floor, despite residents’ complaints.

The Fitzroy Housing Office has announced they will be accepting all of the MFB’s recommendations, and Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing Martin Foley has announced the changes will be applied to all 44 public estates across Melbourne.

But according to one resident, the fire is just one in a series of incidents that Minister Foley and the Department of Health and Human Services, of which Fitzroy Housing Office are a branch of, have to answer for.

Ranko Cosic has been a resident of Atherton Gardens since 2001, and is fed up with what he describes as a “pattern of negligence” on the part of the DHHS and the Fitzroy Office of Housing.

He says that in the 16 years he has lived in the building, there have been no fire drills or inspections to ensure all smoke alarms were in working order, but he says this is just the tip of the iceberg.

A terrorist threat, rampant drug use in common areas and instances where the DHHS had taken nine months to address complaints regarding unstable or unsafe tenants are just some of the issues Mr Cosic has brought to the attention of the DHHS and Fitzroy Housing Office. His appeals went as far as the Premier himself, but he says his complaints fell upon deaf ears, and that the neglect goes further than just the Fitzroy Housing Office landing at the doorstep of Minister Foley himself.

“Since his election, the Minister did not come to our estate until the day of the fire,” Mr Cosic says of Minister Foley, who he believes to be uninterested in his position as housing Minister and unwilling to police the performance of his subordinates.

“Everything rots from the top; it starts at the head and transfers through the whole body. I have reported very serious matters to Minister Foley and it all gets ignored,” Mr Cosic says.

 

Ranko Cosic says the first time Minister Foley visited Atherton’s residents was when they took refuge in the Town Hall following the March 29 fire. Photo: Ranko Cosic

He also recalls personal experiences of harassment and attempted character assassination at the hands of the department, which he feels came about in an attempt to silence his efforts to improve living conditions for himself and fellow residents.

Mr Cosic remains defiant however, declaring he’s “not going to lay down”.

Fed up, Mr Cosic reached out to Yarra City Councillor Stephen Jolly, whom he describes as an ‘integral part’ of the legal battle: “I’m fortunate Steve is there, because who else would fight? I haven’t seen anyone else.”

Like Mr Cosic, Cr Jolly is tired of the pattern of neglect shown by the DHHS and Fitzroy Housing Office, who he says have ignored their residents for years, “and it’s taken a fire and media publicity [and the] threat of legal action for them to do anything”.

While Mr Cosic rallied 30 fellow Atherton residents, Cr Jolly recruited key stakeholders and legal counsel.

He hopes the class action will lead to changes within the department, whose behaviour he labels “dangerously incompetent.”

“It’s outrageous the way the residents are treated … the only time the Department is efficient is when you fail to meet your rent,” he says.

Residents of 125 Napier St are seeking a formal inquest of the fire, along with achieving a successful means of communicating their issues with the Department and working towards having these issues addressed.

Mr Cosic admits his hopes for the outcome of the legal proceedings are “lofty” and go beyond monetary compensation. He says he would like to see the Fitzroy Housing Office “purged”, and Minister Foley, whom he describes as “inept” removed from his position and replaced with “a minister who does care about private housing, who will go to the estate”.

Cr Jolly agrees with Mr Cosic, saying of Minister Foley, “I think he needs to go”.

Mr Cosic says for him, it’s not about the money, but social justice, and with the aid of Cr  Jolly, he will continue to fight his cause until he sees justice done.

Written by Alice Wilson 

6 thoughts on “Residents seek justice following ‘Pattern of Negligence’

  • August 10, 2017 at 2:43 pm
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    That Mr.Cosic should be commended for his passion for the residents of the building in which they reside and the way they have been neglected by government beaurocrats well done Mr. Cosic

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    • October 23, 2017 at 1:39 pm
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      @Hugh, it’s pretty offensive that you choose to target Ranko Cosic, instead of engaging with the serious issues raised in the article. I don’t know anything about Ranko but i’ve just googled the link you’ve provided. He is a Phd student, so what’s your issue? Perhaps he does some part-time tutoring, hardly a gig that would enable anyone to exit secure housing into the hugely exorbitant private rental market.

      Hey Hugh, you wouldn’t happen to be a member of the Labor Party would you?

      Reply
  • August 21, 2017 at 1:48 am
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    Thank God that Mr. Cosic does live there and cares about the lives of the residents unlike the minister and the department of housing.

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  • August 21, 2017 at 1:55 am
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    Thank God that Mr. Cosic does reside there and cares about the residents unlike the minister and department of housing.

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  • October 23, 2017 at 2:31 pm
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    There’s no doubt that the quality and efficiency of the DHHS local Housing Offices has deteriorated even further under Martin Foley. This is a guy who appeared to have a genuine interest in public housing, when in opposition. Little did we know that his interest was just masking an agenda to sell-off significant slabs of inner-city public housing estates and handover, cost-free, the dregs of what’s left to social housing providers. If these plans are pursued they will decimate the public housing sector and drive even more Victorians into homelessness.

    As for the local Housing Offices, they are really being run into the ground, depleted of staff and resources. It’s unbelievable that in the 21st Century we don’t have access to BPay and online rental statements. They want people to work but can’t be stuffed updating their prehistoric systems to accommodate those who don’t have all day to schlep into the Post Office and whose fluctuating income isn’t suited to the blunt instrument of Direct Debit.

    So due to the above, I recently rang my local Housing Office at 11am on a Monday morning to enquire as to my rental balance – we’d be lucky to get a printed statement mailed out even once a year. I was told the only staff member on duty was attending to another ‘customer’. I waited on the line for about 10 minutes without being attended to. I asked the switch operator where all the other staff were, including the managers: at meetings, absent, ra-ra-ra. This isn’t outer whoop-whoop, we’re talking about an inner-city operation that would have about 20 employees.

    The switch operator offered to send a message to my Housing Services Officer. I never received a callback and had to go the trouble of making a formal complaint in order to find out my current rental balance! I never received an apology or, despite my insistence, an explanation as to where all the staff were on a Monday morning. Heavy weekend perhaps?

    So here’s my message to Minister Foley: Martin, get your act together and stop taking us for granted. Get out of the Dinosaur Age and update your systems for the online world most of us inhabit. Employ more staff and make them accountable for their performance. To fund much-needed upgrades, stop diverting the profits from rental income back to Treasury ( a practice of many years so they can always cry poor). Instead of dismantling the public housing sector, start investing in genuine public housing (not pseudo social housing) in order to house the many homeless Victorians languishing on the streets. Bandaid crisis services are not the answer. Finally, when Ellen Sandell asks you a question about public housing in Parliament, cut the patronising, bullshit answers. The truth would be a good place to start. Your treatment of her is disgraceful. Misogynist much?

    Reply

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