Dear Premier

Re: Stage One – Public Housing Renewal Program

I write on behalf of Fair Go for Pensioners (FGFP) Coalition Victoria Incorporated urging   both clarification of terminology and reversal of some proposed initiatives.  Victorian Steering Committee members’ endorsements – both representative and individual –  are included in this letter.

FGFP commends the Andrew’s Labor Government for developing a Homes for Victorians Strategy but cannot abide by some of its features covering the transfer of management of 4,000 public housing properties to the Community Housing Sector and Stage 1 Public Housing Renewal.

It is important to record here that FGFP acknowledges the importance of the role of community housing in the provision of affordable housing options but is opposed to the growth of community housing at the expense of public housing.  FGFP says both are needed.

The remainder of this letter needs be read in this context.

CLARIFICATION OF TERMINOLOGY

The terminology used is ambiguous and confusing and clarification is required about the ways in which your government uses and/or defines the following terms.

  1. Social Housing, Public Housing and Community Housing

The term ‘Social Housing’ is not only used as an umbrella term for both public and ‘community housing’, which disguises the very real differences between the two housing models but also appears that the definition of ‘public housing’ is changing as the terms social housing and public housing are now being used interchangeably. This is misleading, confusing and inaccurate.

For example, the Government website defines public housing as ‘a form of long-term rental social housing that we manage.’ http://www.housing.vic.gov.au/public-housing.  By comparison a recent University of Melbourne 2016 Victorian affordable housing study called Affordable Housing for All: Towards an Integrated Affordable Housing Strategy for Victoria states, public housing refers to non-market rental housing where the state owns and manages housing for households to rent at below market rates.

The above definition of public housing is how FGFP and the general public FGFP regularly speaks with understands the term public housing.  https://dldztak330v9c.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/uGYpUOHp5_H_oyJLAYayIGSQlI_gKaat-xECP1FJvw/mtime:1488332470/sites/default/files/docs/Affordable%20Housing%20For%20All; p: 19.

FGFP requests that the government in answering questions regarding the outcomes planned for these estates, makes it clear that they are using the term ‘public housing’ in the same sense that the general public understands it to mean- non-market income-based affordable rental properties that are owned and managed by the government. If this is not the case, then clarify the mix and meaning of differing housing types to be built.

The government must make it clear exactly what is being proposed, how the changes are likely to affect public housing tenants, especially in terms of access to affordable housing, security of tenure, bonds and other charges, dispute resolution and tenants’ rights to guarantees of return to their former locations and similar size dwellings.

  1. Social housing

As already mentioned, social housing is used to cover both public housing and ‘community housing’ but it is unclear what is the proposed percentage mix of public housing and ‘community housing’ including by not-for-profit developers and for-profit market-based property developers for each location in Stage 1?

  1. Public Housing

We note that the project is entitled ‘Public Housing’ renewal and a recent article in The Age spoke of ‘rebuilding Public Housing’.  Members of the public reading this      article will be under the impression that the end result will be better public housing – not a loss of an invaluable public asset.  The lack of clarity is misleading not only for the general public but also for public housing tenants. http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/estates-to-be-demolished-and-sold-in-developer-deals-to-rebuild-public-housing-20170524-gwcinb.html

  1. Option or Right

Information available states tenants who are moved out will have an option to return to their former homes.  Do they have a right?  If tenants have the right to return to their former homes please be clear and say so.  Option does not mean a right as we             are sure you know.

  1. Number & types of properties

How many properties will be provided in the Stage 1 redevelopment?  Confusion about the number of properties to be demolished is very evident with figures varying from 1,100 up to 2,500!  Clear statements are required here.

What is the mix of bedroom sizes?  Will there be homes for large families or are they all 1 or 2 bedrooms as some are reporting?

What of the needs of home-based care for people with disabilities and for older people requiring a spare bedroom for their carer to stay over?

FGFP says there should be no 1 bedroom dwellings not only because it is building cost inefficient but also will not meet the longer term needs of many tenants, especially older tenants and tenants with disabilities.   

TRANSFER MANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC HOUSING TO COMMUNITY HOUSING SECTOR 

FGFP opposes the plan to transfers the management of 4,000 public housing properties to the community housing sector for the following reasons.

  1. Lack of accurate information

There has been no information available that explains to public housing tenants the differences between the two housing models – and how the situation changes once the titles are transferred to community housing.

Does the government plan to uphold the democratic right of public housing tenants to choose their landlord and remain as public housing tenants of the Government?

  1. Public assets given away

These properties are public assets and belong to the entire Victorian community not the government.  You have not consulted the Victorian community about this proposed transfer?

This does not pass the public interest test.

This is likely the first step in leaving public housing behind as a public responsibility funded and administered by the government.

  1. Preferred option – Public Housing

Public housing is the preferred option for low-income groups because it is secure and affordable housing.

Public housing rents determined on the income-based rent model are capped at 25 per cent of income compared with a cap of 80 per cent for community housing.  While private not-for-profit community housing providers currently set 30 or 35 per cent rates, the fact remains that the cap is set at 80 per cent.  Providers not-for-profit or for-profit can increase rents beyond what many low-income people can afford. 

FGFP calls on your government to reverse this proposed transfer as it is not in the interests of public housing tenants nor is it in the public interest.  FGFP is appalled that a supposedly socially progressive government proposed this plan.

REVERSE STRATEGY INITIATIVES STAGE 1 PUBLIC HOUSING RENEWAL

FGFP makes the extremely important general point that you cannot put a price on the sense of community shared by public housing tenants we have spoken with over recent months from the Wingate Estate, Ascot Vale; Noone Street (South side), Clifton Hill and Gronn Place, Brunswick West.  These communities are strong and there is a need to preserve – not destroy – the sense of community in locations identified for redevelopment in Stage 1.

  1. Local communities’ lost?

The proposed demolitions will result in uprooting many people and their families from their homes, from their close communities, from their broader social networks, from their medical and other community service supports, as well as the disruption of children’s lives and education.  In short, it is the destruction of these strong local communities.

What happens to existing tenants?  How are existing tenants to be treated?

FGFP also asks how are these communities to be kept intact and guaranteed return to their former locations as soon as possible and to homes of sufficient size to house their families?

  1. Public-Private Partnerships (PPP)

FGFP understands that the government is relying on PPPs to make construction costs neutral to it.  This proposal means that just over half of the properties to be built will be sold on the for-profit private market.

This proposed PPP involves two forms of privatization. One, the Government plans to contract with community housing providers which are not-for-profit private companies to offer an expanded public service. Two, the Government is to sell off in part publicly owned assets to for-profit property developers.  http://melbourneunitarian.org.au/index.php/component/osdownloads/routedownload/general/the-blind-men-and-the-elephant-the-impact-of-privatisation?Itemid=346.

Recent research studies of the differing forms of privatisation demonstrate PPPs fail.  They are not more efficient, cheaper or provide informed choice.

Even so, the government says the net increase of not-for-profit social housing will be 10 percent.   What percentage of this 10 percent will be public housing?

FGFP asks what are the alternatives for building new affordable housing and when is the fine print of the Stage 1 plan going to be made public?

  1. Wingate Estate is Home

Four of our Victorian Steering Committee members attended the public meeting at Wingate Estate, Ascot Vale last Saturday and were disturbed to hear that tenants were deeply concerned about the lack of factual information available, worried their voices were either not being heard or ignored and clear they wanted to stay in their homes on this well kept vibrant garden Estate.

Refurbish not demolish

Not all of this Estate is run down.  In fact, refurbishments have commenced with some properties already completed unlike what the State Member for Essendon’s handout states.

Those present about 100 tenants including representatives of tenants with limited English language skills made it very clear that tenants do not want to move rather they want their homes updated and common areas refurbished not destroyed.

Note some tenants came late explaining that it took time to notify tenants in other languages that the meeting was on.

            Key points made by tenants of what they want:

  1. their homes refurbished not demolished.
  2. more than a flimsy option of returning when the undated redevelopment is                  completed?

iii.  professional interpreters provided for information sessions including for the                               linguistic diversity of tenants from African countries.

iv   culturally and linguistically appropriate consultation.

v    clear and factual information in the major community languages spoken

vi   retention of community facilities such as the community centre (offering a range of                   support services), community rooms, halls and kitchens.

vii   retention and update of current common outdoor areas: community gardens,              children’s’ play areas, sporting areas and general estate grounds including solar

lighting, seating, and footpaths.

viii  retention and update of common residential zones – including regular                           maintenance – such as foyers, hallways, laundries and utility areas.

ix   improved safety measures.

It is important to note that the Wingate Estate, Ascot Vale has heritage significance as one of the public housing estates designed as a garden community.  It should not be demolished.

  1. Noone Street (South side), Clifton Hill

Tenants of Noone Street, Clifton Hill unlike tenants from the other locations listed above report being told during a consultation that tenants currently living in 3 bedroom dwellings were unlikely to return as only 1 and 2 bedroom dwellings would be built.  They also reported being told that the Department of Housing would try to find them homes in their preferred area.

FGFP asks why no larger properties are being built in this location and why there are no guarantees of a return to their former location?    What of the other Estates?

Conclusion

FGFP is deeply concerned that social housing becomes both not-for-profit community housing subsuming public housing and for-profit market-based rental housing.  Whatever configuration, public assets are handed over and become private assets, rent models will differ, dwelling sizes will be reduced, tenure arrangements will change and common outdoor areas will be reduced in size or virtually vanish under redevelopments.  These changes will not meet the needs of public housing tenants.

FGFP demands that the government acts to save public housing by reversing the policy of transferring the management of 4,000 public housing properties to community housing providers and acts to invest sufficient social housing growth funds in the provision of both quality refurbishment of properties to meet the needs of current public housing tenants after decades of neglect and new public housing stock.

FGFP calls on you to urgently consider these matters and expects to hear the outcome of your deliberations in the near future.

Yours sincerely

Signature removed

Roger Wilson

President

03 9376 6429

Ms Lew Wheeler

Vice President

0477 236 880

Cc:       Hon Martin Foley

Minister for Housing

Via Email: martin.foley@parliament.vic.gov.au

 

Endorsements

Representative Members Victorian Steering Committee (VSC),FGFP

AMWU Retired Members Division (Frank Cherry, John Speight),

Australian Pensioners Voice (Gino Iannazzo, Vic Guarino)

Australian Unemployed Workers Union (Owen Bennett)

Combined Pensioners & Superannuants Association of Victoria (Alan Warriner & Pat Warriner)

Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (Nikolaus Rittinghausen)

Friends of Public Housing (Fiona Ross)

National FGFP, Vice President (Joe Caputo)

Federation of Greek Elderly Citizens Clubs of Melbourne & Victoria (George Zangalis)

The Pen (Alan Chung, Joe Montero)

Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church (Claude Antolli, Vice President VSC)

Rail, Tram & Bus Union (Keith Coffey)

Single Mothers and their Children (Sylvie Leber)

W.O.W! Willing Older Workers (Marilyn King, Howard King)

Victorian Trades Hall Council (David Cragg)

Maritime Union of Australia – Victorian Veterans (Alan Bloome; Roger Wilson, President VSC).

 

FGFP Individual Section

Ann Davies, Public Officer

Valentina Satvedi Leydon

Colin Ormsby

Elaine Speight, FGFP Vic. representative on National FGFP

Graham Stoodley, Treasurer

Lew Wheeler, Vice President.