Slum squeeze: overseas students taking turns to sleep in overcrowded Melbourne high rises
The Age
Aisha Dow

Overseas workers and students are sleeping in single beds in "shifts" in order to cram more bodies into already overcrowded Melbourne apartments.

slum housing had already returned

The revelation comes after the Metropolitan Fire Brigade flew a drone in front of the Docklands tower ravaged by fire last year, only to find that the slum housing partly blamed for fuelling the blaze had already returned.

Authorities have admitted they were blindsided by the discovery of "illegal boarding houses" at the Lacrosse building and the poor treatments of some tenants, who were being "stood over" by their landlords.

Way up high: the view from the Metropolitan Fire Brigade's drone. Photo: Supplied/MFB

Melbourne City Council's emergency management co-ordinator, Christine Drummond, said that in some units at the La Trobe Street tower, beds were being used by different people throughout the night and day.

 "It was almost like a shift or roster for who slept in the beds at what time," Ms Drummond told a fire seminar this week.

There are also concerns that tenants in the building are being mistreated by their landlords. On one occasion a landlady took the hardship relief payments given to residents affected by the fire. The money cards, worth up to $520 for each person, had to be cancelled.

Ms Drummond said some of the residents were "pretty much stood over by members of their own cultural community" who they trusted, but who in fact,  were "really ripping them off very badly".

It is now suspected that up to three times as many people were living in the Lacrosse building than it was designed for when the fire stuck in November last year.

Two-bedroom apartments had up to 15 people living in them


Two-bedroom apartments had up to 15 people living in them, with lounge rooms divided up by shower curtains, the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council seminar was told.

An MFB investigation found the Docklands fire started because of a discarded cigarette on an eighth-floor balcony, and was fuelled by both "non-compliant" combustible cladding on the facade and personal items stored on the balconies due to overcrowding. The fire quickly spread from balcony to balcony, scorching 20 storeys of the 23-level building.

outdoor balconies were still piled with furniture, clothing and other items

But recent video footage taken by a drone (or what the MFB called an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) showed the lessons of last November were still to sink in. Many of the outdoor balconies were still piled with furniture, clothing and other items. In an event of another fire, this extra fuel load could again feed a more intense blaze.

Although it is understood Melbourne City Council staff are trying to work with the building's managers to fix the problem, city authorities concede they have no way of knowing how many illegal boarding houses are hiding in Melbourne's high-rises.

Ms Drummond said building inspectors could only go into towers if they had received intelligence suggesting there was an issue.

MFB Deputy Chief Officer David Youssef said real estate agents would not necessarily know how many people were living in each apartment, because tenants were "buzzing each other into the building".

Meanwhile, Mr Youssef has warned that the Docklands fire could have been much worse if the conditions that morning were different. He said that if there had been strong winds fuelling the fire, the sprinkler systems inside the building could have been overwhelmed and the blaze could have spread through multiple levels of the apartment building.

The deputy chief said this was a "concerning scenario" that could have resulted in whole floors of the high-rise being engulfed in fire.


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