Labor’s plan to privatise public housing land defeated

ARAG organised a celebration rally on November 18 to support the Legislative Council decision to revoke the planning amendment.

In a win for residents, the Markham Housing Estate in Ashburton has been saved from being partially privatised.

Coalition and Greens MPs voted on November 17 to stop the Labor state government from amending the planning laws that would allow the partial privatisation of the estate.

Under Labor’s proposed deal, developers would rebuild public housing on estates in return for getting most of the land to build private apartments. Labor had wanted to give the go-ahead for developers to add 188 private dwellings and just six new public housing units to the Markham Housing Estate.

The Ashburton Residents’ Action Group (ARAG) said Labor’s plans did not adequately expand the stock of public housing. It is also worried about how the proposed new private units will affect residents already living in the area. The group believes the defeat of Labor’s amendment to the planning laws is a victory for residents’ rights and for public housing.

Asked about alternatives, Susan Rayner from ARAG told 3CR there should be a doubling of public housing stock on the land. She also said there should be “at least 120 two-storey public housing estates being built on the existing land” and not the 62 being proposed.

On November 15, the Victorian parliament debated Amendment C251 of the Boroondara Planning Scheme, which would have given the state government powers to override the local council to implement its preferred redevelopment option on the Markham Estate.

The Legislative Council revoked the amendment on November 17, with Greens and Coalition MPs arguing the decision about the site should be given back to the local council.

Greens spokesperson for Housing Ellen Sandell said the Greens will not support privatising publicly-owned estates while increases to public housing are so minimal. About 35,000 people are on the public housing waiting list.

Labor’s housing minister Martin Foley accused the Greens and the Coalition of putting housing and jobs at risk. He said the decision would “leave vulnerable Victorians in desperate need of public housing with nowhere to go”.

This was echoed by the Victorian Council of Social Services, which said the defeat of the amendment had put “more than 60 public housing units intended for the Markham Estate in Ashburton … at risk because Liberal and Greens MPs in the Upper House have united to block them”.

Sandell disputed this, saying the revocation does not stop the public housing renewal program. “The government can still rebuild public housing on this site,” she said, “and we are committed to working with them to develop a plan that will significantly increase the volume of public housing.”

Fiona Ross from Friends of Public Housing told Green Left Weekly the decision was a win. “Labor’s plans to redevelop the estate would have led to a permanent loss of more than 70% of public land, excessive high-rise private developments and a public housing outcome that would deliver less capacity to house people in desperate need.”

Labor’s re-development plans for the Markham Estate are only the beginning. Under its “public housing renewal plan”, it wants to demolish nine public housing estates and hand over valuable inner city land to private developers. Research has found that the public-private housing mix mainly rewards developers and does little to address disadvantage. This is what is generating so much community opposition.

ARAG organised a celebration rally on November 18 to support the Legislative Council decision to revoke the planning amendment.

Rayner told Green Left Weekly the decision was a “historic win for democracy”. She said it shows that the government cannot get away with trampling over the community’s interests.

Rita, a convenor of ARAG, said residents would continue to campaign for development that is sympathetic to the concerns of the residents while ensuring there is a significant increase in public housing.

Residents say that if the Victorian state government were serious about addressing the high demand for public housing, it would commit to using existing public housing land to improve and extend public housing stock, as opposed to selling land to private developers.

[Jacob Andrewartha is a public housing activist involved in the Public Housing Defense Network, a coalition of activists and public housing tenets in Melbourne organising against the sale of public housing estates.]

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