A public housing rally on May 26 attracted about 200 people to the Walker Street estate in Northcote, one of the many estates threatened with a “renewal” program that will lead to much of the land being privatised with no certainty of return for current residents.
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 and reap millions in profit from a public asset.
Most of the new housing will be sold to private owners. The government has promised additional "social housing" units will be built as part of the sell-off. But Walker Street resident William explained that the current three-bedroom apartments will be replaced by one- or two-bedroom apartments, meaning the total number of "social housing" bedrooms will be cut.
The Stop Labor’s Housing Sell-off rally, organised by the Public Housing Defense Network (PHDN) and Victorian Socialists, heard from William, Yarra Councillor and Victorian Socialists lead candidate Stephen Jolly, Socialist Alliance Councillor for Moreland and Victorian Socialists candidate Sue Bolton, Fiona Ross from Friends of Public Housing and PHDN, and Greens MP for Northcote Lidia Thorpe, before marching up High Street.
William reminded the rally of the history of public housing and when governments and the community saw it as a valuable part of society, unlike the elected politicians of today who are apathetic and uncaring towards public housing residents.
He also highlighted the important role public housing plays in providing a home for the working poor and others who cannot afford private housing.
Co-chair of the rally Steph Price from PHDN said 110 additional units would be built as part of the redevelopment plans. But the cost of these units is the loss of nine housing estates and the public land they sit on. Also, 200 private units would be sold for profit that would go straight into the developers’ pockets.
Jolly said the government could afford to rebuild the estate and keep it in public hands. “It’s outrageous the government is cutting public housing instead of expanding it,” he said. “It’s time the government started investing in public housing.”
He urged people to move the campaign to a new level, similar to the picketing campaign that stopped the East West Link, to stop the loss of public housing before it is too late.
Ross spoke of her meetings with politicians who no longer believe in public housing. She said the government’s agenda of privatisation would result in a complete loss of services in the sector.
She also told of the legislation that has been passed by Labor to take planning responsibilities away from local councils. This is to ensure there is no opposition to the government’s plans from councils and it can simply rubber stamp the developments.
She called on people to join the campaign and put pressure on the Legislative Council to stop the legislation being passed there.
Thorpe said the Victorian Greens are moving a motion in Parliament to block all the changes the government has already put through. The motion goes to the vote on June 6. The campaign aims to build as much pressure as possible until then, including a protest on the steps of parliament.
Bolton said housing is the number one issue in Australia and the market has failed to keep housing a basic social right. She called for an investment of 50,000 public housing units across the state to address the issue of housing affordability for low-paid workers.
She highlighted the Carlton and Kensington programs, which promised that all residents would be able to return. In fact, long-term residents were forced to live elsewhere, unable to return to their community.
Ascot Vale estate resident Claire, a member of Save Ascot Vale Estate, told the rally about the campaign to save her estate, which is also under threat from the government’s plans.
The rally ended with chants of "Save public housing" as it marched up High Street.