Public housing tenants come together to improve their housing

Public housing tenants come together to improve their housing
Cory Memery

I welcome the state government’s program to have structured consultation with public housing residents in Flemington and North Melbourne. This should occur on all public housing high rise estates.

The Pave the Way Forward Program (PWFP) can be seen as responding to the Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass’s recommendation in her report on COVID-19 lockdowns of high-rise public housing in 2020.

No apology has ever been received despite it being asked for by many who were adversely affected by the lockdowns.

There is a simple but often unrecognised fact and that is: people will welcome a chance to have a say about their circumstances and how they can be improved but only if governments listen.

Outgoing Minister Richard Wynne has said that the state government was giving public housing residents the “power” to make decisions about their housing and local neighbourhood.

“From after-school play programs to digital literacy courses and employment pathways, these programs will ensure public housing residents are not left behind as we recover from the pandemic,” he said. My hope is that the new incoming Housing Minister follows up on these promises.

After discussions with Minister Wynne in September about safety concerns, and ways to empower residents at the Carlton high rise estate, he has still not responded. I think we deserve to be informed if there has been any progress on the issues we raised.

The respect for governments is at an all-time low in Australia for a host of reasons but I hope this time around things will be different.

There are many immediate maintenance issues to fix in all buildings:

Lifts are forever breaking down, many residents are left to wait a very long time to get simple things fixed (leaking taps, heaters not working and many other issues), communal washing machines not working. Drying rooms are filthy, and recycling is almost non-existent.

Don’t demolish public housing and replace with private and community housing

One of the locations included in the PWFP is Holland Court which has had 198 of its dwellings demolished to be redeveloped and replaced with community housing and private rental accommodation.

The government is saying that this is only the start of demolition   and   redevelopment   at  Holland  Court  in its recent report on local community consultation.

The developer is being given land for free, with all that will be built being handed over to the government 40 years after construction is completed.

This concept is being marketed as a plus, but it is extremely difficult to comprehend what this will actually mean in 40 years.

Will all the community housing and private tenants and residents supported under the National Disability Insurance Scheme be evicted and public housing residents return?

I frankly can’t believe the government’s plan.

I think what we have at Holland Court is just one next step in a strategy to move completely away from public housing provision: housing that is the most affordable for very low to low-income households and can be extended to many in desperate need of secure accommodation.

The government will release its 10-year strategy soon and I will not welcome it if public housing is not given priority.

The state government must decide to introduce mandatory Inclusionary zoning into all property developments in greater metropolitan Melbourne that will deliver contributions to new public housing stock as part of its new plan instead of demolishing existing housing.

Public housing on SBS

Readers of my monthly column may have started to watch this new series on SBS

It is tracking the experiences of three very different people – a NSW Greens MP, a journalist, and a cook/TV personality – living for a few weeks on social security benefits and in public housing.

The detail is graphic and alarming on the actual money hundreds of thousands of adults and children have day to day to survive on in what should be a caring country.

One can only imagine what it is like in private rental housing and be on social security benefits •

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