Climate Action for Safe Housing

Speech by Jason Ray, RAHU North Branch organiser at the Tear Down the Flemington Flood Wall – Climate Action Rally, Tomorrow Movement, November 2022.

I’d like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and the Bunurong Traditional Owners of Footscray who better managed these lands, rivers floodplains to nourish all forms of life for tens of thousands of years. 

I’m here today from the Renters And Housing Union – RAHU. Our members live in rentals and other precarious housing and we fight collectively for safe and secure homes. 

The Flemington wall and racecourse is a powerful symbol of how the ruling class put profits and cruelty ahead of peoples homes and lives.

Melbourne’s rapidly growing outer suburbs in the North and West are being built on floodplains that get re-zoned for residential housing for huge windfall profits. With skyrocketing housing prices and falling wages these outer suburbs are some of the only places many people can afford. 

It’s not only the Maribyrnong that flooded. Homes in Shepparton, Benalla and Goulburn valley were destroyed in the latest floods and thousands of homes and even lives have been lost in this latest La Niña. These were mostly working class neighbourhoods because of unaffordable and rising costs of insurance premiums and refusal of billion dollar insurance companies to pay for flood damages.

Brand new homes are also being built in areas that developers know will be underwater in 50 years time. 
When asked about this, developers admit that as long as these houses can be sold in 5 years time, “it’s not their problem.” 
Developers lobby hard to build on flood prone land and even successfully lobbied against weak legislation that would have forced them to disclose flood risks to potential buyers. 

This extraordinary greed is completely rational under capitalism and reminds me of Marx’s quote from Capital: “Aprés moi, le déluge” – After me, the flood. 
This is the watchword of every capitalist, and of every capitalist nation.
Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer unless society compels it.
Unless we compel it.

So how can we compel the ruling class to make the changes we need to see?
This is the most important question.

We saw with the flood warriors that people aren’t going to sit around and wait for the State to fix our problems. Thousands of people came together to help after the floods in an inspiring example of mutual aid and solidarity.

We will need to do this again on an even greater scale to direct housing and climate change responses and to challenge the corporate power that would release the floodgates of climate change onto us all.

“We all have a part to play in this fight. There are so many practical things we can do now to start building that power.
Join the groups here today – if you are renting or in precarious housing join the Renters And Housing Union.”

We know that homes to re-house people exist. There are 300,000 vacant homes in Victoria alone. In Footscray the number of unoccupied homes is 21% which jumped up 10% from the 2016 census.
This reflects the madness of private property development – building houses as investments.

We could make housing much more affordable and accessible if we re-introduced capital gains tax and ended negative gearing. Both measures which put billions into the pockets of people who want to treat housing as an investment rather than a home.

We need to massively expand public housing and put it into public control and accountability to ensure it’s safe, affordable and comfortable. In the past, public housing was available to all working people, it’s only after decades of funding cuts that public housing has become so scarce and run down. 

We need to ensure that housing is habitable and our neighbourhoods are climate controlled and energy efficient – powered by renewable energy and decent public transport.

We need to ensure that we can get urgent repairs completed – whether it’s a flooded home or black mould in the walls.

Renters need to ensure that damage and health and safety issues that will get worse under climate change are addressed both by landlords and government. 

As climate change unfolds and threatens peoples homes, from Lismore to Lebanon, we will come together to build power to fight for decent housing and climate action.

Tear Down the Flemington Flood Wall!
Climate Action Now!

Jason Ray is a founding organiser of RAHU, actively involved in the Merri Bek Renters Rights Info Nights and in establishing the RAHU Repairs Fund.
Jason is also a long term climate justice activist, mental health worker, delegate with the Health and Community Services Union