Rally in defence of public housing

The rally in defence of public housing at the Walker Street Estate in Northcote on November 11.
November 18, 2017

More than 100 people attended a rally in defence of public housing at the Walker Street Estate in Northcote on November 11.

The Victorian Labor government has announced a "public housing renewal program" that will involve the demolition of nine public housing estates across Melbourne. The land will be sold to developers who are likely to build high rise towers in place of the current low rise buildings.

Most of the new housing will be privately owned. The government has promised 188 additional "social housing" units. But rally co-chair Steph Price explained that three-bedroom apartments will be replaced by one- or two-bedroom apartments, so the total number of "social housing" bedrooms will be cut.

The government has also promised that existing tenants, who will be displaced during the construction period, will be able to return. But William, a tenant on the Northcote estate, told the rally this would happen only after a long delay, if at all. He said he feared becoming homeless again.

Fiona Ross from Friends of Public Housing said both Labor and Liberal are "hell bent on privatisation". They have used exaggerated propaganda about problems on public housing estates to create a "stigma".

Ross said the government should be building more public housing, not moving people out of existing public housing.

Steve, a resident of the Clifton Hill public housing estate, said the estate had recently been renovated but will now be demolished. He spoke of the need for union support to prevent this.

Greens candidate for the Northcote byelection Lidia Thorpe pledged to "stand with the community to stop demolition". She condemned developer donations to political parties, and advocated stronger powers for local councils to block developments opposed by their communities.

Kelly from the Homeless Persons Union spoke of the problems with "community housing", which the government is pushing as an alternative to public housing. Public assets have been handed over to community housing bodies to own or manage. Rents in community housing are usually higher than in public housing and tenants have no recourse if they are increased further.

Spike, also from the Homeless Persons Union, described the bodies which run "community housing" as "quasi-corporate entities". He spoke of how homelessness is treated as a public order issue, when it should be treated as a human rights issue.

Moreland Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton said the attack on public housing is part of a broader attack on working-class people, including the privatisation of TAFE and disability services, the attacks on Centrelink recipients and the attacks on unions and workers' wages.

Bolton challenged the idea, promoted by politicians and the media, that public housing has failed. "Public housing estates are real communities", she said, citing her discussions with residents of the Gronn Place estate in West Brunswick.

Long term public housing enables people to get to know their neighbours and look after each other’s children. If the estates are demolished, these communities will be broken up.

Bolton said it is necessary to get unions and other organisations to take a stand against these plans. She noted that many unions are reluctant to criticise the Labor government.

The rally ended with chants of "Save our communities" and "Defend public housing".

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