Labor pushing ahead with public housing sell-offs


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In a recent report, The Australian Population Research Institute concluded: “The housing affordability crisis in Sydney and Melbourne is close to the worst in the developed world”.

Clearly this is a reflection of the scandalous privatisation agenda, whereby governments are colluding with greedy developers to sell-off public housing rather than addressing the diabolical deficit in housing.

Public housing has been run down from 7% of total housing stock in 1991 to 4% today. In Victoria there are 84,000 adults and children on the public housing waiting list, with 500 more being added each month. Despite this, the Andrews Labor government is continuing plans to further privatise public housing.

As part of its misnamed Public Housing Renewal Programme (PHRP) the government is demolishing 11 public housing estates around inner Melbourne and selling them off to private developers.

Valuable public land is being lost. Under this programme the actual number of bedrooms available to public tenants will decline while the private developers will make huge profits by building private units on these estates.

Meanwhile people seeking public housing are routinely told they will have to wait years for a secure home, often being left homeless while they wait.

A campaign against the sell-offs has been waged for over a year by a range of groups. In the lead up to the state election there were well attended public meetings in Brunswick and Northcote with support from local councils. Street stalls, protests, letterboxing and a vigil at parliament were also held.

During the election campaign the Andrews government promised to build 1000 new public housing units by 2022. But this is duplicitous given that the government intends to demolish 2500 public housing units on the targeted estates.

The campaign has not been able to halt the sell-off with the government recently signing a deal with the developer MAB Corporation for the sale of three inner-city estates. 732 private apartments will be built alongside 329 ‘community’ housing units.

The model of private and social housing side by side has been a failure on other estates. Importantly, in public housing rents are guaranteed to be 25% of income, tenancies are secure, without a time limit, and all applicants below the income threshold are accepted. None of this applies to community or social housing.

There are a number of reasons why the campaign has struggled to gain traction. The various groups opposed to the sell-off have at times been disparate in their strategy and actions. What is needed is one united open campaign where strategy can be agreed democratically.

Another factor is the sheer difficulty of mobilising the tenants due to the ongoing intimidation they face from the Office of Housing. Although there is demonstrated public support for the campaign, it has been difficult to transfer this into public action and resistance.

Making matters worse, approaches to the union movement, via Trades Hall, were blatantly rejected. It seems the leaderships of the unions support the Labor government’s privatisation plans.

In early 2019 a new Save Public Housing Coalition formed with the intention of revamping the campaign. Future meetings will consider what action can be taken to stop the sell-offs and how we can push forward to demand urgent investment into public housing.

Clearly both the major parties oppose the expansion of public housing. This poses the need for a political alternative to the Liberals and Labor. We need to fight for a party that wants the profit motive removed from housing in Australia. This can be done by expanding public housing and putting strict checks on landlords in the private rental sector.

We need a new government housing authority that could introduce rent control, and a regime to monitor the quality of all rental properties. These types of measures are urgent as already more than 1.3 million households cannot afford the exorbitant rent charged in the private market.

Socialists believe that housing should be a basic human right rather than something a few make profits from. The capitalist market has clearly failed to make housing affordable, accessible or secure. Socialist solutions are the only way forward.

By Michael Naismith

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