The Victorian Labor government plans to sell off inner city public land, which currently houses more than 2000 public housing tenants, to property developers. Under the misnamed Public Housing Renewal Plan, the government will give property developers access to land that is currently used for public housing.
This plan involves the forced removal of tenants and the demolition of nine or more public housing estates across Melbourne. Many residents have lived on the estates for many years and do not want to leave.
Tenants are being put under huge pressure by officials from the Department of Health and Human Services to “agree” to leave. They have been given assurances they will be able to return if they are still eligible.
However, very few current tenants will be eligible to return because the developers intend to build mostly one- or two-bedroom units where there are currently three bedroom units. Families that require three or more bedrooms will be excluded.
The experience of previous public housing redevelopments at Kensington and Carlton is that very few tenants were able to return.
Tenants who do return are likely to find a new landlord. Instead of returning to public housing, they are likely to return to community housing, which charges higher rent and is not as secure. Tenants will not have the same enforceable protections as public tenants.
Thousands of new homes will be built on the estates, but the vast majority will be privately owned. There will be 4521 new private dwellings but only 188 new “social” housing units. The developers stand to make big profits by cashing in on land that should be used for public housing.
The whole plan looks like a land grab by developers because the developments will be fast-tracked and exempt from local planning schemes. Once the land is no longer publicly owned it is gone forever.
Many tenants of the targeted estates do not want to leave because it will mean the break-up of their communities. One Somali tenant at the Gronn Place West Brunswick estate told Green Left Weekly she had lost her whole family in the civil war in Somalia. The people at the Gronn Place estate are her new family now. She is a single mother of five and feels as if the state government is making her a refugee again. She will lose her family.
There are nearly 35,000 Victorians on the public housing waiting list and there is a housing affordability crisis across most of the state. The need for thousands of new public housing homes is critical. Instead, the government wants to give developers land to build thousands of unaffordable private apartments.
A campaign has begun to resist the mass displacement of public housing tenants.
Neville, a tenant of the West Brunswick estate, told Green Left Weekly why he did not want to leave his home: “I’ve lived here for 30 years. I’m not going to move anywhere. All the people here are friendly and down to earth. They’ve always stuck by me.
“There's [people from] 32 cultures live in Gronn Place, There are 96 children in all the flats. The kids are always safe in Gronn Place.
“A lot of the people here are single mums. Some have got five children and some have got four children. They've been promised three bedroom flats [after the redevelopment] but they're only going to get two.
“If I have to, I'll chain myself to the rails and they can come and unbolt me. I've been here too long. A lot of people want to be here with me, and they're going to chain themselves to the rails as well. Because it's just not on. The Premier doesn't care about us.
“We will not let them tear down our homes. Gronn Place is a home. It’s our castle. We don’t care whether you are black, white or brindle. We are all family here.
“I’m not going anywhere. They’ll have to drag me out.”
Umayma, another tenant, said: “The good thing about living here is it's like a family. Whenever there's a celebration, we all come down so that we're all together.
“What I heard is that they're going to build new houses here and then when they're done, they'll move us back here. I don't believe what they say. I think they just want to move us out and when they build the new apartments, they're going to make the [rent] so high that half of the people living here won't be able to afford it and they won't come back
“Me and my siblings are five and my parents are two so that's seven. How are one to two bedrooms going to be enough for us?
“This is where I was born. It's like taking away something from you and I don't want that taken away from me.”
[Sue Bolton is a Socialist Alliance councillor on Moreland City Council.]