Affordable housing and the state election

Affordable housing and the state election
Cory Memery

The election results are in, and a new government will either ignore or choose to deal with housing affordability problems of hundreds of thousands of Victorians of all ages.

The Labor, Liberal and National parties raised nothing new to deal with the crisis. They did not commit to change the current direction away from estate demolitions and redevelopment that gift investors, developers and community housing organisations with free land and funding to NOT build public housing.

In a letter to The Age (November 23, 2022), resident of the Barak Beacon public housing estate Margaret Kelly described how the previous government made: “a huge change to how low-income housing is provided and doing it under the umbrella term ‘social housing’, with the knowledge that few people will understand the difference between the funding models, or their consequences. Community housing is always more expensive and less secure for tenants. Regulations and rents vary wildly between organisations. They accept funding from private investors and therefore have to be profit driven.”

Labor said nothing about a 10-year housing strategy that it had spent the previous 18 months consulting on, nor did it release the recommendations from an inquiry into the regulation of public, community and (their own definition of) affordable housing.

Public housing estate redevelopments with market rent and so-called affordable housing saw the definition of affordable in this period change, though, from 80 per cent local market rent to 90 per cent without any transparency on how this was calculated. The only conclusion to be drawn is that it was changed to lift returns to investors.

The Save Public Housing Collective’s (SPHC) petition on this proposed strategy had close to 6000 signatories wanting public housing to be at the centre of new government investments. Click here to sign the petition.

Affordable housing and homelessness advocacy groups

In the lead-up to the election an alliance of organisations that included the Victorian Council of Social Services, the Victorian Public Tenants’ Association, Community Housing Industry Association and the Council to Homeless Persons (Alliance) released a platform that focuses on the Commonwealth Games to be held in Victoria in 2026.

With the Commonwealth Games being held across major regional centres there are real fears in these communities that private rental housing will become more unaffordable and that there will be a further drive to demolish public housing estates and redevelop them to fit the Games’ accommodation needs.

The Alliance called for only 6000 new social housing dwellings to be added per year for the next 10 years and set a very modest target of only 30 per cent of new housing for the games be retained as “social” not public housing. It was as though they were briefed or already understood the historical neoliberal mix adopted under numerous public private housing partnerships in Australia, with 70 per cent for private dwellings being the magic number for minimal expenditure by government and a guarantee of profits for investors.

The SPHC estimates that by the end of this year close to 58,000 households – more than 123,000 adults and children – will be on the Victorian Housing Register (waiting list) by the end of this year.

The SPHC also estimates that the average trend for the past six years of more than 4000 new applicant households per year will be the minimum expected growth, so the Alliance’s numbers when you add in public housing demolition plans – that they did not criticise – means 6000 will not solve the housing affordability crisis in Victoria now, nor in 10 years.

The maths tell us the Alliance was not advocating seriously for Victorian households in crisis now and in growing numbers in the years to come. They very much appear to accept the position that private investors can solve the affordability crisis when it has only got worse under their historic dominance in new dwelling construction. There is an unresolvable conflict between profits and affordable housing justice.

Genuine housing affordability campaigning – return to public housing

With the election out of the way hopefully public housing tenants and their community supporters can strengthen campaigning and be joined by those who are on the waiting list and other households desperate to gain access to secure, affordable housing.

At the Ascot Vale and Barak Beacon (Port Melbourne) estates we have seen Retain, Repair and Reinvest studies carried out by the fantastic not-for-profit design and research team Office demonstrate how these estates can be retained and have more public housing built. Click here to read more.

The costs of these studies were funded by public housing supporters in Victoria.

Tenants were able to gain some publicity during the election campaign period over the shocking neglect of their homes in need of major repairs for many years.

I want to see these voices getting louder and succeeding in convincing the new Victorian parliament to move away from thinking private investors will fix the crisis and force the new government to return to public housing investment: new construction and repairing what we have!

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