Merri-bek councillors take a stand against demolition of public housing estates

November 30, 2023
Socialist Alliance Merri-bek councillor Sue Bolton. Photo: Chloe DS

Residents, councils and community campaigners are fighting the Victorian government on its plan to demolish 44 high-rise public housing estates.

The Save Public Housing Collective is campaigning to save the estates which are spread across a few local council areas.

“Local councils should back the campaign and oppose the demolition of the estates and oppose the forced relocation of tenants,” said Sue Bolton, the Socialist Alliance councillor for Merri-bek Council. 

She told Green Left the government claims the flats are “past their use-by date”, but has refused to provide any evidence. It is presenting its plan as a “done deal”.

“Demolition will exacerbate the housing crisis, because those tenants will need new places and the public housing waiting list will grow even longer.

“Displacing tenants will rip communities apart,” Bolton said. “This can take years off the life of elderly tenants, who are forced out.”

Architects here and elsewhere have shown that it is possible to refurbish individual flats, or a floor or a building, without tearing down a whole estate, she said.

The government claims its public-private partnership, with developers, will build a “mix of public and private” housing. But this is not a step forward, because developers will be handed control for 30 years and two thirds of the new flats will be private.

The plan is to replace the current 660 flats with 19,000 private flats and around 600 social housing flats.

“There shouldn’t be any private flats on public land,” Bolton said.

The government has refused to reveal whether the “social housing” flats will be public or community housing.

Tenants in community housing pay higher rent and have less rights that public tenants. Community housing tenants also have to pay for disability modifications whereas public housing tenants don’t.

“Under pressure from officials, tenants worrying that they will be homeless if they don’t vacate their homes,” Bolton said.

“Local councils should back the campaign and oppose the demolition of the estates and oppose the forced relocation of tenants.”

One of the high-rise estates under threat is in Barkly Street, Brunswick, where 116 people live. 

Independent Councillor James Conlan and Bolton moved at the November 8 Merri-bek Council meeting to oppose the demolition of the 44 estates, calling instead for council to support  the Retain, Repair, Reinvest model. The motion passed, with one Labor councillor voting against.

Another motion opposed the privatisation of public land through the ground lease model — where the government leases the land to a private developer for 30 years. Conlan described it as “privatisation by stealth”.

Housing worker and Independent Marri-bek councillor Monica Harte said the track record of both governments on public housing as “appalling”. “It’s why we have more than 50,000 people on the waiting list. Governments have left housing to the market: it’s a policy failure.”

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.