The following article reproduces the main points made in an E-letter dated 12/3/18 sent to Emma King, Chief Executive Officer, Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) in response to her article in The Age (6/3/18), Opinion, p: 19. Then follows a number of call outs Hands Off Public Housing (HOPH) has made to the Victorian Government over many months. You can read Emma King’s work on VCOSS blog reproduced as ‘Woeful’ state of affordable housing worsened by political debate at: http://vcoss.org.au/blog/woeful-state-of-affordable-housing-worsened-by-political-debate/

“As one of the convenors of Hands Off Public Housing (HOPH) and a Tenant Worker for public housing for over a decade, I must take issue with your view. To be perfectly honest I am very disappointed that VCOSS has thrown in its lot with the State Government’s untenable position on selling off public housing land.

Whichever way you examine their programme it is wrong.

It is wrong because governments of both sides have as you quite correctly said have neglected public housing for a very long time. It is wrong because it is short sighted and will in the long term result in less public housing. It is wrong because it says that public housing tenants are ghettoised, ghettos result from bad allocation policies which both sides of government have practised. Public Housing tenants do not consider that they live in ghettos, they believe they live in a community, a community which has been deliberately neglected, and run down. We have spent many hours on the estates being targetted for privatisation and talked extensively to tenants.

They are fearful, unhappy, angry, disappointed and the majority don’t want to leave their homes and they certainly have not been given accurate and understandable information. The Minister’s ‘pledge’ that all will be able to return to their original estates, they know isn’t accurate as the number of three bedroom units, required particularly by the larger families of those born overseas will not be provided. It is wrong because there are 35,000 on public housing waiting lists and thousands more paying in excess of 30% of their income in private rental.

The housing crisis will not be resolved by selling off public land to private for profit developers, it is short sighted, insupportable and wrong.

That is why HOPH called for a moratorium on the Stage 1 Public Housing Renewal Program (PHRP) certainly till the Upper House investigation was completed and made public and we believe that there needs to be a national council formed to develop a real policy, funded from taxation through the Federal Government, with strict guidelines that will ensure states use the money as it should be used, and the three tiers of government plus NGO’s and housing activists coming together to develop an acceptable programme for housing, a fundamental right.

Your support for government policy on housing has allowed the government to proceed with a very bad policy. We ask that you reconsider your position and take a stand that the community can endorse”.

As HOPH notes, all 9 public housing estates are on prime real estate sites in Ascot Vale, Brighton, Brunswick West, Clifton Hill, Hawthorn, Heidleburg West, Northcote, North Melbourne, Prahran. http://www.vic.gov.au/affordablehousing/social-housing/building-and-upgrading-new-houses.html

HOPH goes on to add that Emma King’s article confusingly uses the term public housing as if this was the only housing to be built following the demolition of existing dwellings on the PHRP nine public housing estates. Selling off large parts of the land to private for profit developers for the building of apartments for the private market only includes “the specification for the number of social housing dwellings on the redeveloped estates to exceed the current number of public housing dwellings by 10%” as Shaw reports. That is, a mere 10% increase and not necessarily public housing but ‘social housing’.

As defined by the Victorian Government, social housing refers to both public housing and private community housing. It is misleading to continue to talk about public housing when the PHRP is a mix of public housing, community housing dwellings and private market apartments which are proposed under these redevelopments.

The PHRP will replace existing public housing by smaller dwellings that will accommodate fewer people.

As well, and as one property developer stated, the common wisdom says that the mix is 70% private market and 30% social housing. This means there will be many more private dwellings both private market and community housing with the Government abandoning its responsibility for public housing and handing the vast majority over to private operators.

In deciding how much public housing expansion is required to meet both urgent need for public housing now and for future demand some commentators call for a minimum 50% public housing. Other specialists such as Kate Shaw suggest that “inner-city public land should start from the presumption of 100% public housing and work back from there according to the development economics.” https://theconversation.com/why-should-the-state-wriggle-out-of-providing-public-housing-79581

HOPH continues to call for a moratorium to allow time for urgent changes to be made to the PHRP so that it puts people before profits and provides more public housing, protects vibrant public housing communities which are home to thousands of Victorians, respects local neighbourhood character and returns planning controls to local government and complies with those planning controls.

Join HOPH, public housing tenants groups and other public housing activists by phoning your local State Member of Parliament and call for this moratorium before it is too late.