Unions asked to put ‘green bans’ on public housing demolitions

April 2, 2024
Graphic: House You: Everybody Gets a House

A coalition of grassroots housing groups launched a national petition campaign on April 1, which aims to involve unions in defending and extending public housing.

The groups supporting this initiative include: House You: Everybody Gets a House; National Housing Justice Campaign; The Save Public Housing Collective; Action for Public Housing NSW, Lismore Housing Justice Collective; Anti-Poverty Network South Australia and Housing Matters Bass Coast.

The “Fix the Housing Crisis” petition calls on unions in construction, electrical, plumbing and the public sector to support community-led green bans, as well as to refuse to demolish public housing and defend public housing tenants against evictions.

Spokesperson Rachel Evans said median rents in Gadigal/Sydney are around $745-$601 a week, up from $437 in August 2020. She said this is the context for the “massive increase in homelessness”.

“And this crisis is set to worsen”, Evans said. In the City of Sydney local government area at least 277 people are homeless every night. Meanwhile 2568 dwellings lie empty.

“Instead of building more public housing, NSW Labor wants to demolish public housing estates at Waterloo South, South Eveleigh and 82 Wentworth Park Road, Glebe.

“The Arncliffe public housing estate has been demolished, while Telopea’s Three Sisters towers sit empty.”

Chels Hood Withey, from House You: Everybody Gets a House, said: “We need unions to help us retain and re-build public housing as a solution to this crisis.”

Historically unions have stopped anti-social developments and played a critical role in pushing governments to commit to public works, through enacting community-led green bans.

A green ban is a prohibition of work by union members on demolishing important social, environmental and heritage sites.

Now, nearly 53 years on since the NSW Builders Labourers Federation joined forces with the residents’ group Battlers for Kelly’s Bush to protect the heritage-listed bush land from a proposed luxury housing development, the housing justice network wants unions to do more.

“Byron Bay has the most rough sleepers in the state and there is no public housing in the region. People are desperate.”

Save Public Housing Collective spokesperson Jeannie Erceg said the campaign there is to stop the government from demolishing 44 public housing towers in Melbourne.

“If ever there was a need to bring back community-led green bans, it is now,” Erceg said.

The petition calls for public housing to be maintained and for residents’ rights and homes to be protected.

It promotes public housing as a partial solution and calls for community meetings to hear directly from communities about what is needed.

[The petition can be accessed here. For more information or to get involved email office@houseyou.org.]

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