Victoria’s new housing program falls short

November 26, 2020
Public housing in Flemington. The Victorian government is prioritising social housing, however. Photo: Supplied

The Victorian Labor government’s Big Housing Build program, announced in the budget on November 24, has a welcome focus on affordable housing. However, housing advocates are concerned that new public housing is not included in the plan.

There is still little detail known about what proportion of the new 12,000 social housing units will be public housing or community housing. But the trend in Victoria has been to favour the latter.

More than 100,000 people remain on the public housing waiting list.

The government has committed more than $6 billion to build 12,000 new social housing dwellings as well as maintain existing social housing.

In this state, social housing often refers to both community housing and public housing and therefore the term can be misleading because there is a big difference between the two.

The Save Public Housing Collective describes public housing as housing that is owned and subsidised by the government and where the maximum rent cost is 25% of the tenant’s income. Public housing tenants are often more marginalised people, single parents, migrants or people with mental or physical health problems.

Community housing, by contrast, is run by private not-for-profit organisations and rental costs can be up to 30% of tenant’s income. These tenant’s right to stay in subsidised housing is less secure because community housing conditions vary depending on the private organisation. The rules governing public housing are regulated by the state government.

The government has been handing over large swathes of land, owned by the Department of Housing, to developers to construct high-rise apartment buildings. A 2017–2018 report was criticised by several councils and the Victorian Greens for doing this.

Community housing comes at the expense of expanding public housing stock: it is a form of privatisation by stealth.

David Kelly, research fellow for the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT, told Green Left that the government’s new spend on social housing “is a very good jobs package but not a very good housing package”.

Kelly said that while the details of what percentage of the new social housing package will be community or public housing, based on previous “renewal” programs, he was concerned that public housing may be sidelined again.  

But he said the budget’s housing announcement confirmed to two key aspects. First, “$532 million dollars are being spent on the renewal and maintenance of five existing public housing estates, and building new social housing on a vacant open space on existing public housing estates. They have been confirmed to be 100% community housing units.”

The second confirmation, Kelly said, is that the government is paying private developers $1 billion “to include social housing in their new developments” as opposed to mandating it by law — a practice known as “inclusionary zoning”.

This means that the government is giving a hand-out to property developers, already making huge profits from housing developments.

[Jacob Andrewartha is a public housing activist.]

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