Residents “shaken” at lavish Southbank apartment building

Residents “shaken” at lavish Southbank apartment building
Brendan Rees

Concerns are growing of escalating drug use, violence, and aggressive behaviour at a lavish Southbank apartment complex after formerly homeless Victorians moved into the building in August.

As part of its From Homelessness to a Home Program launched earlier this year and valued at more than $150 million, the state government purchased 13 apartments at the newly developed Botanic Complex in Coventry St – nine of which are now occupied.

The initiative aimed to provide nearly 2000 households with stable housing, but from the perspective of other residents, it’s a “totally inappropriate solution”.

“There are people shooting up in the back of the building, and there’s a lot of paraphernalia,” one resident said, who spoke to Southbank News on the condition of anonymity due to fears for their safety.

“What I have seen is that they go out and their contact is waiting, there’s an exchange.”

“These are people that have very complex needs. Personally, I haven’t seen any support for these people.”

The resident said people were also “sleeping in the corridors,” which she assumed were let inside the building by new residents under the scheme.

She said there were incidents of thefts but they had reduced after a security officer was hired to patrol the front door of the complex which is metres away from a childcare centre.

“I know there are people living in the floors where these residents are that haven’t slept in weeks because they bang on their doors, they shout, they carry on, they have issues.”

She said one resident was left “shaken” and didn’t want to enter the complex after seeing “two women were carrying on and shouting at each other” at the entrance, which led to a security guard intervening.

“When we were told about this sale it was supposed to be for low-income earners,” the resident said.

Cafes in the neighbourhood told Southbank News they had also seen an increase of anti-social behaviour in the area with syringes being dumped around their premises including at one outdoor dining area.

“My boss actually found a bag of unused needles … around the trees, so it has been at least three or four times,” one café worker said, who wished to remain anonymous, adding their EFTPOS machine was recently stolen.

Another resident of 20 years who lives in the area said it was “sad and concerning” and believed “they should have consulted with the community”.

A state government spokesperson, who named the Botanic complex, said the apartments were bought in 2021 from the developer under the spot purchase program, which is part of the landmark $5.3 billion Big Housing Build, which has delivered 550 dwellings across the state to date.  

“We’re continuing to adapt this program to meet the complex needs of those eligible for the program,” the spokesperson said.

In a statement, the state government said, “Homes Victoria has been working with Housing Choices Australia and the developer to address some problems involving a small number of social housing tenants”.

“This includes relocating some residents to secure long-term housing. No renters will be left without a home, with appropriate alternative accommodation being provided,” it said.

“We welcome the developer’s commitment to the wellbeing of all residents and their support for social and affordable housing options integrated into residential construction in Victoria.”  

Ashley Williams, the director of Evolve Development, which sold the apartments to the state government, said the current behaviour at the building was “not acceptable in any typical privately-owned building” and his organisation was working with Homes Victoria to try to resolve the issue.

He said Evolve was of the understanding the apartments would be used under the Big Housing Build program with “assurances that suitable tenants from the affordable and social housing waiting list would be selected”. 

“We had never heard of a “Homeless to Home” program at any stage, that was something that became apparent after they settled,” he said, which was in August this year.

“It’s definitely been a challenging couple of months,” he said. “Most of those issues in my experience are very unusual and unexpected and undesirable in a medium high-density building.”

He said the owners’ corporation committee was communicating directly with Homes Victoria while Evolve had been “assisting them with that process and trying to bring about some changes that give the residents confidence that their quiet enjoyment can be returned”.

Asked if Evolve would aim to buy back the apartments, Mr Williams said, “That’s an ongoing discussion, that’s one of the options available. Homes Victoria has indicated that they have a program that they would like to work with the industry and secure more housing and certainly this is a bit of a test case for that.”

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