Housing crisis week in Melbourne

August 27, 1997

Housing crisis week in Melbourne

By Lev Lafayette

MELBOURNE — Victorian community organisations and individuals have formed People for Public Housing to oppose federal and state government changes to the public housing system. The organisation will run a week-long campaign here in the first week in September, culminating in a rally in the Bourke Street Mall.

Key changes being introduced include rent increases, loss of secure tenure, stricter eligibility criteria and targeted allocations.

Only Victoria has adopted all these changes. Housing minister Anne Henderson recently announced an increase in rents from 20% of household income to 25% for new tenants, three-five year tenure for new tenants, tightened eligibility criteria, and waiting lists divided into different categories.

Henderson also announced that funding of grassroots tenants' associations would be cut. Services previously carried out by the tenants associations, such as information and referral, have been put to tender. Critical tasks such as advocacy and research will not be carried out.

All of this runs contrary to the real housing needs in Victoria. There are 80,000 households in the private rental system which live in housing poverty — i.e., they pay more than 30% of their income in rent.

Private rents have increased in Melbourne by an average of 8% over the past 12 months. The increase in the inner city, where the high rise estates are located, is much higher.

The waiting list for public housing is now nearly 62,000 — an increase of 17% from 1992. Over 60% have been on the waiting list for over two years. The total number of people in public housing stands at more than 70,000.

Few low income Victorians are convinced by the government's assumption that, with rent assistance, the private rental market is affordable and secure.

Overseas experience shows that only landlords benefit from such subsidies. Even the federal government's Industry Commission recognises this, noting that government capital investment is the best mechanism to ensure low-cost quality accommodation.

The Kennett government has ignored calls from the opposition, tenants' associations, church and community groups for a solution to Victoria's housing crisis. The only alternative is a direct public campaign.

People for Public Housing have distributed information sheets — "Home Truths" — and will be running a daytime vigil and "cardboard city" in the Bourke Street Mall throughout the first week of September. For further information contact People for Public Housing on (03) 965 5378, fax 9650 4175.

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