Victorian housing in crisis

Housing was barely mentioned during the August 21 federal election, despite being a huge social issue. The Victorian state election is looming, and it is crucial that more is done to protect and win back our housing rights.

People from all walks of life are affected by the housing crisis. Sole parent families, youth, Indigenous people, migrants, people exiting prison, and pensioners are some of the hardest hit, but hundreds of thousands of Victorians are also struggling due to rental and mortgage stress.

Over 58,000 people used homeless services in Melbourne in 2008-2009 and, for many people, homelessness is not temporary. The percentage of income spent by renters on housing is also skyrocketing.

In response, the state government has done little. Now that the election is looming they are rolling out a series of promises and announcements, but these either offer no definite solutions or half-hearted, band-aid ones.

Since 1999, the Victorian ALP government has failed to stop excessive rent increases or restore the many tenants’ rights taken away by the Coalition government of former Premier Jeff Kennett.

On August 6, the government said it would provide 8000 additional public housing places by 2012. The ALP’s track record says it is unlikely it will achieve this. Even if it does, it won’t help many of the more than 41,000 people currently on the public housing waiting list.

The Rooming House Standards Taskforce, set up in July 2009, is another example of the ALP’s inadequate response. While the body looks good on paper, it is a toothless tiger. It rarely prosecutes rogue operators and does not require limits on rents, or government acquisition of rooming houses that close.

Some rooming houses operate well and do not rip people off, but the lack of regulation means the sector remains largely exploitative. Landlords charge up to $300 a week for a room, many of which are substandard and only offer insecure, short-term tenancy.

The City Is Ours is a community group taking action around the housing crisis. It works with homeless people, rooming house residents, public housing tenants, struggling renters and community organisations to collectively take action on housing issues. It will hold a forum on Thursday October 14, where speakers will talk about how the lack of affordable and appropriate housing in Melbourne is affecting people’s lives, and solutions to the problem.

On November 12, there will be a rally at Housing Minister Richard Wynne’s electoral office at 112 Smith St, Collingwood from 4.30pm to demand:

• Greatly expanded investment in public housing;
• Legislation to limit rent increases;
• An end to illegal evictions;
• An improvement in standards for rooming houses and the prosecution of rogue operators;
• Increased funding for housing cooperatives;
• Support for green housing.

[This City is Ours group meets regularly at Trades Hall. For more information, email contact@melbournecio.org.

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