Housing activists organise national day of action for public housing, rent controls

December 15, 2023
Public housing tenants in South Eveleigh. Photo: Peter Boyle

Twenty one housing justice groups, from across the country, organised a national “Housing is a Human Right” day of action, coinciding with International Human Rights Day. They called on Labor to provide for more public housing and a rent freeze.

The National Housing Justice Campaign said housing and shelter is a fundamental human right, not as a commodity.

Homelessness Australia estimates at least 750,000 people are living in housing stress and 640,000 families are in desperate need of secure housing.

Activists gathered outside the state Library in Naarm/Melbourne and condemned Labor’s plan to demolish 44 public housing towers. “This plan will displace over 10,000 families,” said spokesperson Jordan AK.

Madeleine Smith, spokesperson for the housing justice group in Bundjalung/Lismore, said nearly two years after the floods, more than 1000 people are still in temporary accommodation and just 70 of an eligible 1100 people have had their homes’ buy-back settled.

“In Page, more than 68% of renters were already in rental stress before the last two recent years of relentless rent increases,” Smith said.

Battling extreme weather, public housing tenants in South Eveleigh in Gadi/Sydney, slated for demolition, joined residents in Waterloo, also facing a similar fate, where Community, Dignity, Respect put on a BBQ. The Sydney Street Choir sang four songs.

Carolyn Ienna, a First Nations public housing campaigner and a former public housing resident, addressed the gathering.

Sarina Afa, “a proud public housing tenant” for more than 30 years, said: “I will never sit back and blindly accept that these proposals are the right move by our government”.

Waterloo public housing resident and activist Karyn Brown said the Chris Minns government had reneged on an election promise.

“He has demolished Arncliffe public housing and is threatening to demolish public housing estates in Waterloo, Glebe, South Eveleigh, Mascot and elsewhere.”

Emily Valentine, a tenant from Glebe public housing estate said the campaign has had some wins, pointing to the Franklin Street estate being saved.

She described the increase in social housing at Cowper Street, which will be rebuilt as 100% social housing, was a partial victory. The campaign to save 82 Wentworth Park Road, Glebe, continues.

John Koch, a member of the Construction Forestry Maritime, Mining Energy Union, Retired NSW branch, drew applause when he offered support to the residents’ campaign.

Chels Hood Withey, a housing activist from Bundjalung/Byron Shire and an organiser with House You, described how the once-thriving coastal region “is now overrun by empty holiday homes”.

“With just one-seventh of the population, Byron Shire has more rough sleepers than the City of Sydney.

“Locals are forced to live on the streets, in the dunes or in their vehicles, because they are unable to get accommodation.

“Byron has been ravaged by holiday rentals, like AirBnb, with 35% of our housing stock dominated by short-term letting.”

The Kaurna Yerta/Adelaide action took place online, due to extreme wet weather. Samantha Skinner from Anti-Poverty Network South Australia said while there had been progress towards fairer renting “especially in the recent banning of no-cause evictions”, rents are still skyrocketing.

“While we welcome the government’s commitment to building 564 new public homes, this is not enough.”

Virginia Gawler from Action for Public Housing NSW and Greens Member of the Legislative Council Dr Amanda Cohn addressed the action in Wagga Wagga.

“Leaving domestic violence is a major cause of homelessness,” Gawler said. “Many people have no alternative but to stay in violent situations.

“With a massive government-built of beautifully designed public housing program, women and gender-diverse people could safely leave violence.”

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