More than 150 local and public housing residents attended a forum organised by the Public Housing Defence Network at the Brunswick Town Hall on October 4.
The forum focused on the problems with the Victorian state government’s Public Housing Renewal Program and, in particular, the plight of residents from the Gronn Place estate in West Brunswick who have been forced to leave as a result of the estate’s sell-off to private developers.
Moreland City Council Mayor John Kavanagh told the meeting that council believes that “access to safe and affordable housing is a defining characteristic of our community”.
Moreland Council, along with many other councils across Melbourne, has made its pro-public housing position clear to the state government, to little effect: the Daniel Andrews’ Labor state government has continued to sell off public housing estates and reduce the number of public housing units available.
Despite meeting with state government officers, including housing minister Martin Foley, Kavanagh said “The state government has left local communities including councils with little say over the future of local public housing”.
Nevil, a Gronn Place resident for 30 years, spoke of the long-term deterioration of the complex and his fears for the vulnerable residents of the estate, which includes many single parent families.
Nevil lives with his disabled son and is concerned about the breakup of his community.
“Community is important on the estate,” Nevil said. “I’ve tried to contact the Andrews’ government — with no success and the media doesn’t want to talk about it.”
Vice Chancellors Principal Research Fellow at RMIT and convenor of Darebin Friends of Public housing Professor Libby Porter said the moves to sell-off public housing and the privatisation of public housing services is a worrying global trend.
Victorian Greens leader Sam Ratnam told the meeting that the government was abandoning public housing amid a crisis of housing affordability. “The gap between the rich and the poor is widening and an entire generation are being locked out of housing ownership”.
Ratnam reiterated Porter’s statement that a deliberate lack of investment in public housing to run it down meant that the government could then step in and say the project needed to be run by the private sector.
“In Victoria, around 82,000 people are on the public housing wait list, while the government is systematically demolishing public housing estates”, Ratnam said.
“They say they have no money to build or maintain them, yet we currently have a $1.9 billion surplus and enough money to fund huge road projects. Their actions have allowed developers to dominate and determine the direction of public housing.”
The Greens have pledged 40, 000 new public housing units as part of its election campaign. They have also requested that the state government put the Public Housing Renewal Program on hold until after the November election, so that the people of Victoria can have their say.
Moreland councillor Sue Bolton, who is running for the Victorian Socialists in the Northern Metropolitan region, spoke about the link between the displacement of Indigenous residents and the dismantling of public housing.
Bolton said several Indigenous residents told her that the only way they can live in the inner city and maintain contact with their land is by living in public housing. “This is another way of displacing Indigenous people from their land.”
She said public meetings such as this are an important part of fighting back against the axing of public housing and the gradual privatisation of many public services.
“The market cannot provide a solution, and both major parties and some not-for-profits want you to believe that the government has no place in public housing,” Bolton said.
The bust-up of estates damages communities in many ways, she said. “Long-term permanent tenants create communities. Residents know who can assist them looking after their kids; who can help them out with a loan until payday; and who they can go to if they are in trouble.
“Residents feel like they are about to lose a part of their family, a big part of their support networks and the strong bonds they have forged with other residents over the years.”
Victorian Socialists support 50,000 new public housing units and a 5-year rent freeze.
Playwright, author and member of the Friends of Public Housing Barry Dickens read out a poem before members of the Public Housing Defence Network moved a motion to condemn the Andrews government’s demolition and privatisation of public housing.
The motion also called for support for a public housing rally on November 9 at the State Library of Victoria, 6pm.