Vic Labor sees ‘dollars, not people’ in public housing sell-off plan

The Victorian Labor government continues to face resistance to its plan to sell large plots of public land across Melbourne. The land has been used for many decades for public housing and, in at least one case, was given to the state specifically for that purpose.

Under the plan, public housing on 11 inner city estates will be demolished and the land cleared to make way for private developments. The government is taking on the task and costs associated with flattening buildings and shifting people from the sites, ensuring that successful tenders will be presented with rare large-scale greenfields opportunities in some of the most commercially desirable parts of the city.

While developers eye off mega-profits, thousands of public tenants face an uncertain future, anxiously awaiting the inevitable knock on their door from the government’s relocation officers – a newly hired team charged with getting tenants off their estates.

Speaking on 17 January at a protest organised by the Public Housing Defence Network on the Ascot Vale estate, located five kilometres from the CBD, Steve, a long term tenant, said that no-one can tell them what will happen. “When are we going to move? Where are we going to move? How long are we going to be gone for?”, he asked. “Someone tell me. The minister can’t and the housing commission can’t. What do we do?”

Steve, like others, has been told that the government’s plan is about “renewing” the public housing on the estates. But with the only estates targeted for “renewal” being those in residential construction hotspots – including suburbs like Northcote, Brunswick, Hawthorn and North Melbourne – tenants can see through the government’s claims. “They see dollars; they don’t see people”, said Mike, one of organisers of the Ascot Vale protest.

Planning documents show that most of the public housing estates will be turned into massive private complexes, with just a fraction of the land set aside to construct new “social” housing.

Many larger homes accommodating families will be replaced with one- and two-bedroom units. The government is also giving no guarantees that new “social” housing will be managed publicly. Instead, indications are that the new “social” housing will be managed by non-government housing associations that aren’t required to give tenants the same protections they have in public housing.

Across the estates, coalitions are forming between public tenants, neighbouring residents and activists to oppose the government’s plan. With Victoria in the midst of a housing affordability crisis, public housing supporters are demanding that the estates remain public.

Steph is a member of the Public Housing Defence Network.