• Elder Allison Duncan is distraught at the prospect of leaving her home of 12 years. (NITV)
Time is running out for more than a hundred Indigenous residents in Toowoomba facing forced eviction from their homes, with some already giving up hope.
By
Ella Archibald-Binge, Michael Carey

Source:
NITV News
22 Feb 2019 - 2:13 PM  UPDATED 22 Feb 2019 - 2:13 PM

Tenants have filed complaints with police, the corporate regulator and the Commonwealth ombudsman in a last ditch attempt to reverse the sales of 37 formerly Aboriginal-owned homes, which were auctioned earlier this month amid allegations of fraud and financial misconduct.

Valued at more than $6 million, the properties were originally owned by the Downs Aborigines and Islanders Company (DAIC) to provide affordable housing to Indigenous families. 

But a 2016 deal authorised by DAIC directors Les Suey and Michael McCarthy handed ownership to a private company, Downs Housing, which later defaulted on the mortgages, forcing the houses to be auctioned. 

The sole director of Downs Housing, Geoffrey John Hirning, was sentenced to seven years' prison after pleading guilty to fraud in an unrelated case in 2002.

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Mr Suey told the Toowoomba Chronicle last week that the deal promised to reap benefits for the community.

"It was thought to be an opportunity that would allow DAIC in the longer term to increase housing stock, to be financially secure and to provide a better standard of homes for our people," he told the newspaper. 

"One aspect of the joint venture was that management was in the hands of the developer.

"By the time the board, or at least most of its directors, realised that the joint venture had become a disaster, they had no power to do anything about it."

Mr Suey apologised for the "hurt and sorrow" caused, and said he never received any funds from the venture. 

Both Mr Suey and Mr McCarthy declined to speak with NITV News.

'They weren't listening to community'

However, Kevina Suey – a former tenant who lived at the properties for more than 10 years – says the homes have been mismanaged for years.

“In the past we’ve had no repairs, no maintenance – we just had nothing... our homes were un-liveable," she told NITV News.

"They [the board] just wasn’t listening to community, they didn’t want to listen. Because we were put in the [too] hard basket, we had no one there to really help us."

Ms Suey filed a string of complaints with the corporate regulator, ASIC, and the local council about alleged misconduct, bullying and nepotism within the company, to no avail.

After refusing to pay rent until repairs were undertaken, she was evicted in 2016.

Now, Ms Suey says she empathises with residents.

"[They're] just broken and they’re sad, really sad and it just breaks my heart," she said.

"There’s so much connection we have with our homes – it’s our sense of belonging, that’s where we belong.

"And our children know, when they go out there in the world and if they make mistakes out there, they can always come home to us, to our house.

"It’s just wood and that, but it’s more than that to us... it’s like you’re losing something really close."

With the settlement date still weeks away, some tenants are holding onto hope that legal or police intervention could reverse the sales.

Meanwhile, the state housing department says it's working with residents to find alternative living arrangements. 

Around 10 families have already vacated their homes, with leases due to run out in April and May.

Both the state and federal governments have resisted calls to intervene. 

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