Public housing high-rise residents suffering in the heat with inadequate infrastructure

Morning tea with heat-affected high-rise residents 

By Elyse Cunningham, Sweltering Cities Community Organiser, Melbourne 

On Monday 28th February, Sweltering Cities Melbourne Community Campaigner joined a  weekly morning tea for residents from some of Melbourne’s over 55’s public housing towers. The purpose of the visit was to discuss their experiences of living in the towers during heatwaves, the effects that the heat has on their livelihoods, and what they would like to see changed. 

Graham, who walks with a cane and travelled to the meeting in a taxi, spoke about how during the recent heatwave he was so exhausted that he was nearly collapsing. There are no ceiling fans in his apartment, and the windows aren’t double glazed. There is also no aircon. When it gets too hot, he avoids cooking as that would make the apartment completely unbearable. 

“If there were thermometers in our apartments that would be good, cause then we would at least know what level of heat we are dealing with”. 

Tower resident Hewit described how on hot days she sits down in the communal garden all day. In the garden many of the seats are old and have no shade. Even though there were some large shady trees, almost all of the seats (except for one purpose-built undercover seating area) are exposed to full sun all day. Hewit explained that she can’t sleep at night on hot days, and is unable to leave her place as she has no family in Melbourne, and wouldn’t feel safe at night on her own.

Resident Peter raised the issue that a lot of these seats also needed to be fixed, and aren’t a comfortable place for residents to go and escape the heat. He also spoke about how the top floors in the apartments get noticeably hotter than the lower floors, and that AC should be provided in those floors to ensure the residents’ safety. He used to sleep down in the community room, but it was closed March 2020 due to covid, and has still not been opened even though restaurants, cafes, bars, sports venues and everything else is open. Though some of the apartments do have a hole for AC piping, these are in the lounge-room, rather than in the bedroom where it would be much more beneficial. To make his apartment more liveable in the heat, Peter has built his own air conditioner window frame to find some relief from the heat (image below). 

All of the residents said that no matter how many times they make complaints, nothing ever gets done. They are always told that it is in the hands of the Department of Housing, and then the case is closed, but nothing ever changes.

Sandra, who used to be on the committee for the development of the Kensington estate, told me that back in 2013, funding for the tenants association was cut. They used to have monthly meetings with the department of housing, and now they hardly ever happen at all. 

She supports more funding for the tenants association so that there can be more consultation between the governments and tenants. 

Terry, another resident, proposed that there should be a big garden on the roof of the buildings. This would provide a cooling effect, could be used to grow food, and would likely have a positive effect on residents’ mental health with access to increased green space. 

Sweltering Cities is proud to advocate on behalf of the residents, and hope that in the future we can make these towers more safe, sustainable and equitable. 

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