Residents of Fitzroy’s massive Atherton Gardens public housing estate rallied and then occupied the local office of the Housing Department on March 16.
The rally was organised by the Atherton Gardens Residents Association (AGRA) and was also attended by supporters of public housing including the Victorian Socialists.
Residents are angry about the arrogant and haughty treatment they feel they are receiving from the department, which is using scarce public housing funds on art projects when lifts are broken, refurbishments of units have stopped, there is little parking for the 800 units on the estate and more.
The trigger for the action was the Housing Department manager’s refusal to meet the elected leaders of AGRA to discuss residents’ concerns.
Residents linked their campaign to the fight by other public housing residents against the state government's plans to demolish their homes and transfer the land to private developers, with no guarantee of the right of return or continued public housing tenant rights, and the loss of their open space.
The Housing Department office was packed with occupying locals in a display of working-class unity across dozens of backgrounds, including Vietnamese, Chinese, Sudanese, South Sudanese, Somalian, Albanian and Anglo-Australian.
The department called the police when the residents arrived, despite the peaceful nature of the protest. Housing minister Martin Foley should enquire why the managers called police instead of talking to the residents.
After an hour-long standoff the department backed down and agreed to meet the AGRA President and the Yarra Mayor Daniel Nguyen.