Public housing tenants vow to resist eviction

Gronn Place estate residents and supporters at the July 15 meeting.
Friday, July 21, 2017

Residents of the Gronn Place public housing estate in West Brunswick vowed to resist eviction at a community forum on July 15.

Gronn Place residents’ spokesperson Neville, who has lived there for 30 years, said, “We will not let them tear down our homes,” adding that he would chain himself inside his home. “I'm not going anywhere. They’ll have to drag me out.”

About 80 residents and supporters attended the lively community forum, the first since residents received letters that they would be evicted.

Gronn Place is one of 10 Melbourne public housing estates facing demolition. Instead of refurbishing existing public housing and building more, the Victorian Labor government is planning to forcibly move 6000 tenants and demolish public housing estates. Most of the land will be sold to developers. Some will be used for what is termed "social housing", but this will have smaller apartments than the current public housing and tenants will pay higher rents.

Friends of Public Housing (Victoria) called the government’s privatisation of public housing “completely wrong, any way you look at it”.

“It is extraordinary, given we are in a housing crisis,” Friends of Public Housing’s Fiona Ross told the meeting. “This is privatisation by secrecy and stealth. This is not about increasing public housing or solving the terrible crisis of homelessness. It is about putting valuable real estate and profits above all else.

“There is simply no guarantee that residents can return, because one and two bedroom flats replace three bedroom homes.”

Concerned residents spoke of their fear that families will be disconnected from the local community and children removed from local schools. Families will face relocation to unknown locations, possibly in the outer suburbs.

A resident who lives nearby said that private renters and owners in the area would stand with public tenants in opposition to the plan. Private owners oppose the high rise rebuild because it will devalue properties and split up the cohesive Brunswick community.

Tenants from other public housing estates in Melbourne urged all the estates to organise together and fight against “government blackmail”.

Northcote estate resident William, also facing eviction, said successive governments have left the housing estates in disrepair. “Decades of neglect have sabotaged public housing,” he said, adding that now the forced removals are “blackmailing residents, councils, and community”.

William spoke of his concern that, even if he could eventually return to the promised “social housing” on the former Northcote estate, he would face “stigma” from the wealthier residents of private apartments on the estate.

“I have a mental illness; I feel safe in my current place. I won't feel safe going back into a private estate where they make me feel ashamed to be in public housing. I’m not ashamed; my public housing is my sanctuary,” he said.

Moreland Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton announced that the Moreland Council officially opposed the private redevelopment. She called for the estate to remain a 100% public housing estate. She said the apartments should be refurbished a few at time, rather than the whole estate being bulldozed.

Bolton said the government's plan for “public housing renewal” is in fact a “plan to hand land to developers”. She added that: “Labor’s plans mean a massive and permanent loss of public land — a land grab on the same scale as the Kennett years — and will include huge private developments on ten public housing estates and more.”

Opposition to the plan is mounting. Fair Go For Pensioners, which is backed by unions, is supporting the campaign to defend public housing. Its spokesperson Lew Wheeler said: “I grew up in a public housing state. We are backing the residents [including] the elderly residents in public housing. Currently, we are looking at a class action against the state government to legally block the process.”

Legally public housing tenants, who have lived in their homes for more than 30 years, cannot be forcibly moved.

Ken Mooney, one of the founders of the former Public Tenants Union, spoke of the mass resistance to evictions in the 1930s. Mooney called on the community “to stand together; they can't touch you together. We did it in the past, and together you can take a stand.”

The meeting passed two resolutions: to pledge to support tenants who refuse to leave and that all public housing estates remain100% publicly owned and managed.

Residents will meet and draw up a log of claims, including that the government properly maintain and refurbish the buildings.

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