More than 200 people attended the first rally organised by the Public Housing Defence Network in Debney Park, Flemington on October 15.
The network was established to fight the Daniel Andrews Labor government’s plan to privatise 11 public housing estates across Melbourne. The government wants to sell the current walk-up blocks of flats to private developers who will replace them with some social housing and high rise private developments.
Greens MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt told the rally: “This is the state government looking at public land in the inner city and only seeing dollar signs and thinking how much of it can we sell off to private developers to build 15-storey dog boxes on to flog off to the highest bidder.
“This is not about making public housing residents’ lives better, this is about the state government making as much money as it possibly can. That this has something to do with the 40,000-odd waiting list [for public housing] is a complete farce.”
The state government’s plans for the Flemington estate demonstrate the political priorities of the government. Once the 200 flats have been demolished, they will be replaced by 220 smaller units that will be handed over to a private social or community housing organisations, meaning tenants will not enjoy the same rights as public housing tenants.
In addition, 825 new apartments will be built in several high rise buildings. These will be built on what are now communal spaces — basketball courts, playgrounds, barbecues, parking — for the remaining public housing tenants living in the high rise blocks.
Resident consultation has been symbolic at best. One resident from the North Melbourne estate said: “Our requests to keep the barbecue and communal garden were thrown out the window. The new social housing will be one- or two-bedroom apartments. What was their plan for families? Move to three-bedroom houses in the suburbs, far away from their local school? They’ll have to take me by force.”
Socialist Alliance Moreland councillor Sue Bolton told the rally: “The state government has sold this as public housing renewal, which would be great if it were genuine. But this is a developer land grab. They’ve exempted the developers from local planning schemes, overriding local councils.
“This issue is very important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as well, because their communities are being dispersed from the inner city because of the cost of housing. That means the destruction of their communities.
“This campaign is not so much about protecting buildings as about protecting communities. If the government gets away with expelling 2500 people or more from these public housing estates, what impact will that have on these communities? People won’t have anyone to look after their kids for them; give them lifts to the doctor; look after things when they’re away; or the multitude of things people do to help each other out.
“The government uses the term social stigma and social problems to present the idea there’s nothing worth saving, not real communities that look after each other.”
Gronn Place West Brunswick public housing resident Maymun said: “We don’t call where we live commission housing; we don’t call it public housing; we call it community; we call it family.
“I’ve been living there for 30 years. I don’t want to move. I lost some of my family in Somalia before I fled. I don’t want to lose people again here. I rebuilt my life again. I have family; I have friends; I have a community; wonderful people, from different countries from all over the world. I don’t call them community; I call them family. Don’t lose hope. We will fight back and we will win.”
[The next rally will be at 1pm on November 11 at the Walker Street Estate, Northcote. Contact Sue Bolton on 0413 377 978I if you would like to get involved.]