Non-market solutions are needed to solve the housing crisis, forum told

August 8, 2023
Public housing campaigner Margaret Kelly. Photo: Jordan AK

A public forum on the housing crisis on July 27 was told that while non-market solutions are ignored by governments the housing crisis will intensify.

The forum, co-hosted by Green Left and Socialist Alliance, heard from Margaret Kelly, who has resisted the demolition of the Barak Beacon public housing estate since 2021; Gabrielle De Vietri, Greens MP for Richmond and Greens’ spokesperson for renters’ rights and Sue Bolton, Socialist Alliance Councillor for Merri-Bek.

Despite the fact that a record number of houses are being built, the housing crisis is the worst it has been since the 1930s, and will continue intensify.

Kelly criticised the establishment media’s coverage of the erosion of public housing for “focusing on individual tenants and not the overall picture”. She said people don’t understand the issue, even though “most would support more public housing”.

Kelly said this lack of media interrogation of public housing impacted the Save Barak Beacon campaign’s attempts to reach out to unions. “We thought that unions would not support the demolition of public housing” but it later became clear from communication with a union representative that they had conflated “public” and “community” housing, quoting extensively from the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.

“I’ve spoken to the workers involved in the demolition, and they all believe that they are demolishing public housing to make room for even more public housing," Kelly said. “I think people have a right to know what their labour is doing, and unions should see to it that that happens.

“Public housing and community housing are not the same … community housing is more expensive and it doesn’t have the same protection as public housing.”

De Vietri said more than 130,000 people are on the public housing waiting list and it is growing every day. “Yet entire blocks [of public housing] are being emptied in Richmond, Fitzroy and Collingwood estates.”

They said vacancy rates for renters are at an all-time low, rents have skyrocketed 20% in the last year and are set to go up at another 11.5% in the next year.

“[Across Victoria] there are more than 30,000 people sleeping rough … meanwhile there is a concentration of investment properties in the hand of a few.

“Thanks to tax breaks like negative gearing and capital gains tax discount it is easier for an investor to buy their fifth, sixth property than an owner-tenant to buy their first.”

A parliamentary inquiry into the rental crisis in Victoria will begin in August. The Greens want a two-year rent freeze, permanent caps on rents, 100,000 new public homes, and to regulate the short-stay market.

Bolton said the commodification of housing is the source of the housing crisis. “Red-herrings — immigration, housing supply, NIMBYs, YIMBYs, red-tape — and obfuscation masks the destruction of public housing … The real problem is that capitalism makes housing a commodity.”

Bolton said the other crisis was an “income crisis”. “Most people just want a place to live in that is secure … investors just want to make a profit. The only way to deal with this is to take housing out of the market.”

Bolton said the fight for rent protection and the regulation of short-stay accommodation is important but most importantly, “we need more public housing”. That means less housing on the market and “less downward pressure on the price of houses and rents; this is how we can start to de-commodify housing.”

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