“Don’t let our community be destroyed” was the message of the Gronn Place community meeting organised by Friends of Public Housing and Socialist Alliance on August 30.
About 50 public housing tenants and supporters of public housing gathered to discuss their rights. This was the second meeting on the estate. The first meeting was held on July 15.
Gronn Place in Brunswick West is one of the 12 public housing estates currently being targeted by the Victorian Labor government to be redeveloped by private developers in a public-private partnership. The estates targeted for destruction are mostly three-storey walk-ups.
Under this partnership, large sections of land owned by the Department of Health and Human Services will be handed over to private developers to build high-rises which would be only house half the number of public housing tenants. The developments would also be exempt from the local planning schemes which limit the height of buildings to four storeys.
The redevelopments are being falsely billed as “public housing renewal”, but the reality is that half the units will be privately owned. It is unlikely that most tenants will return because the current three-bedroom flats will become one- and two-bedroom in the new development.
Tenants who do return are likely to find they have a new landlord. Instead of public housing, it is likely to be community housing, which is more expensive and less secure.
Friends of Public Housing convenor Fiona Ross said that the government has no respect for public housing. She said tenants have rights and the state government has misled tenants about what “public housing renewal” actually means.
Mahir Muhammad, a tenant of the Flemington estate that is also being targeted for demolition, told the meeting the proposed redevelopment will lead to 200 new private dwellings at the Flemington estate at the expense of public housing.
Muhammad said tenants on the estate had formed an active residents group that organised meetings of more than 100 tenants, reflecting the anger felt by the community and the importance of tenants standing up for their rights.
Fitzroy Legal Service lawyer Matt Wilson said lawyers from community legal centres across Melbourne are forming a group to help public housing tenants faced with eviction. The lawyers are seeking to work out exactly what the government is guaranteeing and what are just vague promises.
Wilson also pointed out that the money that tenants pay in rent should be used to maintain public housing estates. He said falling standards of public housing indicate the state government has no concern for the wellbeing of public housing tenants.
One of the Gronn Place tenants, Maymun, told the meeting she was forced to flee Somalia during the civil war, in which she lost her whole family. Since living in Gronn Place, Maymun has gained a second family.
Maymun said there are a lot of people like her, single parents of a number of children, living at Gronn Place. She asked how she will be able to come back to an estate that has only one and two bedroom flats with her five children. “We’re not stupid”, she said. “We know we won’t be allowed to come back.”
Maymun said people living at Gronn Place “come from all over the world but we are all family”. If she were evicted, it would be like losing her family for a second time.
Another Gronn Place resident, Neville, said: “Gronn Place is a home. It is our castle. We don’t care whether you are black, white or brindle. We are all family here”. Neville also repeated his pledge that he will never leave Gronn Place. He intends to chain himself in his flat to prevent his eviction.
Moreland councillor and Socialist Alliance member, Sue Bolton, told the meeting that in 2013 there was a successful campaign to stop the state government taking the garden area around the Atherton Gardens estate in Fitzroy to build private housing. The campaign was successful because large numbers of tenants and supporters of public housing came together and were able to get the support of construction unions.
She said a network of public housing activists was starting to form again, with people from estates all over Melbourne coming together to stop the demolitions. At the end of the meeting, a number of people volunteered to be part of a committee to defend the tenants from eviction.
A community rally to defend the estates will be held on October 14.