The Andrews Labor government’s euphemistically titled Public Housing Renewal Program aims to sell a range of public housing estates across inner Melbourne in a series of public private partnerships.
These deals will hand over large swathes of land currently owned by the Department of Housing to developers and allow the construction of high rise apartment buildings. The state government wants to remove planning controls over these developments from local councils by creating a special planning committee to oversee the developments within the department.
In return the developers will replace the existing public housing stock with new units that will be taken out of the public sector and owned and managed by social or community housing organisations. The number of dwellings will increase, although only by around 10%, but the new social housing stock will be smaller apartments unable to accommodate many of the families who live on the estates. However most of the new housing built on public land will be private housing.
On August 9, Moreland Council voted to support the redevelopment only if it would be 100% public housing and, as proposed by Socialist Alliance Councillor Sue Bolton, there was no sell-off of public land to private developers.
“Melbourne has a chronic housing problem,” Bolton said. “There are more than 35,000 people waiting for public housing. Privatisation of public housing and land grabs by private developers do nothing to address this.
“As homelessness and mortgage stress are on the rise, the misnamed Public Housing Renewal Program shows the Labor government is more interested in the profits of property developers than solving the housing crisis faced by thousands of Victorians.
“It also demonstrates what can only be described as contempt for current public housing tenants who are to be forced out without a guaranteed right of return to appropriate housing in a community where many have lived most of their lives.”
On August 21, Darebin Council also rejected any hand over of public housing to private housing associations or public land to private developers.
The Greens passed a motion in the Victorian Legislative Assembly for a parliamentary inquiry to investigate a wide range of concerns with the Public Housing Renewal Program, including the adequacy of such a small increase in public housing and the effect on current tenants.
While resistance to the program on councils and in state parliament is important, uniting the various residents’ action groups and their supporters in a mass campaign will build support for public housing and force the state government to not only back away from privatisation but invest in a Public Housing Renewal Program worthy of the name.
Bolton said: “At the same time as Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong socialist and leader of the British Labour Party, has committed to building 1 million new houses, 500,000 of which will be in the public sector, the Labor government does next to nothing for those waiting desperately for public housing. We need to build community support for large scale construction of public housing, not privatisation for profit”.
On August 22, residents and campaign groups, as well as the Greens and Socialist Alliance agreed to organise a mass action to unite the campaign to keep public housing in public hands, stop the sell-off of public land and build more public housing.
Open organising meetings will be held fortnightly starting on September 4 at 6.30pm. If you would like to come along or help out please contact Sue Bolton on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0413 377 978.
A range of residents action groups are working with campaign groups including Friends of Public Housing, Defend and Extend Public Housing, A Fair Go for Pensioners and local councillors from the Greens and Socialist Alliance.