By Meg Hill
The City of Melbourne has moved to overhaul its relationship with apartment dwellers after three months of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed weaknesses.
At a June 2 Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting, councillors unanimously voted for a motion moved by Lord Mayor Sally Capp that noted the predominance of apartment living in the municipality, and the challenges presented to it by COVID-19.
As a result, the motion requested council management to review information and services and produce “tailored support” to volunteer owners’ corporations (OCs) and strata title owners. It also stipulated the delivery of a virtual support workshop for the strata community.
But while the motion was carried unanimously, some councillors expressed reservations.
Cr Capp said the initiative sought to address the issues apartment dwellers had faced in recent months.
“We know in the City of Melbourne that the majority of our residents live in high-rises of some sort – 83 per cent, just over 140,000 people,” the Lord Mayor said.
“When you are living in apartments the type of issues you face are different to those that live in single dwellings and it’s important that we can reflect the issues that are being faced and provide support for people living in apartments.”
The Lord Mayor said many issues became clear during the pandemic but had existed beforehand.
Julie McLean from the Strata Community Association Victoria (SCAV) welcomed the move.
“As the motion confirms, managing jointly-owned private community spaces without specific guidelines or directions from the authorities has been challenging and has, as a result, left owners’ corporation committees at the risk of failure of meeting some of their duties and obligations,” she said.
“Committees, owners, tenants, strata and building managers have been left having to decipher vague generic directions that do not specifically speak to the unique circumstances of strata spaces.”
“As the last near pandemic was 2003, this pandemic will not be the last and to review and learn from this experience, both good and bad, is necessary to help the strata sector to be more resilient in the future.”
Southbank Residents Association (SRA) president Tony Penna also supported the move.
He said owners in Southbank were “perplexed, confused and bewildered with what they should and shouldn’t be doing with this pandemic”.
“We also hope the outcomes of the motion will be reviewed at some stage in the future,” he said.
“We know that the pandemic is still in its early stage. If there are lessons to be learnt from this or things that could be done better we hope that this, whatever it will be, a policy or process or a document, will certainly be reviewed at the end of it.”
But some councillors expressed concerns about the motion, particularly around the idea of requesting management to “interpret public health orders”.
Cr Arron Wood said he was worried the clause went against the decided intent of the council at the beginning of the pandemic.
“When we started COVID-19 we talked about DHHS being the single source of truth and indeed our own organisation really pushed hard that there should be a single source of truth,” he said.
“Wherever we insert ourselves in interpreting public health orders I think that we can put ourselves into some positions that we potentially don’t want to be in.”
Cr Beverley Pinder also expressed concern about the move causing confusion.
“There’s a whole range of issues that are really for an owner market, not for a council to be interfering,” Cr Pinder said •