Community calls for homes not prisons

The Homes not Prisons meeting in Melbourne. Credit: Stephen Jolly / FB

A “Homes not Prisons” event in Fitzroy on July 18 attracted more than 100 concerned public housing residents and community members from across Melbourne to the Atherton Gardens public housing precinct.

The aim was to highlight the staggering inequity of expenditure by state and federal governments on prisons compared to public housing for the vulnerable in the community.

Residents expressed their concerns about inadequate or broken facilities, security problems, the threatened removal of green spaces and the lack of parking permits. They were frustrated by the lack of action to address their problems and felt they were not being listened to. This echoes the sentiments of public housing residents throughout Victoria.

Spokesperson for the Atherton Gardens Residents Association Hi Tran said residents had to fight for everything, including basic maintenance. He emphasised the need to work together and with Yarra City councillor Stephen Jolly, who had been instrumental in some of their victories, to ensure they did not lose what they had and continue to fight for issues such as better housing for larger families.

Jolly said the state and federal government had walked away from their responsibility on the public housing issue, preferring instead to leave it to private investors, but this market approach was not delivering what was needed.

Steph Price from the Public Housing Defence Network said the community was concerned about attacks on public housing and the affordability of housing in general. She reiterated Jolly’s view that the government’s response to the housing crisis was completely inadequate, leaving many vulnerable to insecure housing and homelessness, including families with young children.

Smart Justice’s Megan Fitzgerald questioned why there was such a vast difference between government spending on prisons and public housing. She pointed out it cost almost $800 million to house a mere 7149 prisoners in the Victorian prison system last financial year, the same amount the Victorian government spent on housing Victoria’s estimated 22,000 homeless people.

She said if the government is concerned about crime rates, the main priority should be to address rising rates of poverty and homelessness. Instead, the government will spend almost $700 million to build a new 700-bed maximum security prison at Lara — almost $1 million per prisoner.