Media release: More public housing is welcome, but the devil is in the detail

For immediate release: 17 November 2020

RAHU welcomes the Andrews Government’s commitment to investment in social housing. With over 100,000 Victorians on the public housing waiting list, this announcement is overdue.

We are concerned, however, that the announcement does not specify the proportional split between public and community houses and continues to invest in privately-owned, unaccountable “affordable housing”.

The statement from the premier promises 9,300 public and community houses”. Public housing is highly secure for the tenant: it’s owned by the state government, rent is capped at 25% of the resident’s income, and tenancies are lenient in order to ensure the residents remain housed and secure.

On the other hand, community housing is owned or managed by private, not-for-profit housing organisations, and the right to remain housed is not as secure. Rent is more expensive: up to 30% of the resident’s income plus a variety of incidental charges. Moreover, while the community housing is managed by NFP housing organisations, the housing stock is often owned by private, for-profit developers. Community housing is offered as a small proportion of the estate, and the remaining apartments are private tenancies. There is no evidence this “social mix” model is beneficial for the community housing tenants.

The premier’s statement also included 2900 “affordable” houses: private contracts for “low-moderate income households”. These will not be accessible to the public housing waiting list.

While social housing is a feel-good message for the state to champion during the COVID recovery, this pandemic has shown the myriad dangers of outsourcing housing to the private rental market.

The devil of this announcement is in the detail. The Big Housing Build may not be a move towards more public housing, and may in fact be another win for unaccountable and profit-motivated privately-managed housing.

We don’t want to see further sell-offs of public housing stock for developers to exploit, either immediately, or when their affordable contracts end. The state government must commit to public housing which will provide long term security and stability for renters in Victoria.

Quotes attributable to Jesse James Frances, RAHU Organiser

We’re relieved that the government is investing in social housing, but it’s troubling that there’s no clear commitment to public housing.

Public housing is the most accessible, secure and stable tenancy for vulnerable people. No private housing organisation, especially if they’re contracted by a developer, will be able to offer this security.

While we’re encouraged by the scale of the investment, we can’t sit by and watch another neoliberal shift in the housing market. The state can’t palm off its responsibility to provide housing to private developers.

Quotes attributable to RAHU members who have lived in public housing

I was moving between women’s shelters with my mum as a result of domestic abuse. We waited months for a place in public housing, which had a massive effect on my mum’s mental and physical health as well as my own. – Cassandra, RAHU member

The rort in affordable housing is almost imperceptible from the outside, but when you’re in it you see the difference. I was paying 65% of my income to rent and was refused a reduction, even while negotiating through CAV. I was verbally abused by my property manager for requesting COVID-safe cleaning after we had two outbreaks in my building. I had to have serious surgery and the organisation refused any support or leniency. It’s no better, and in some ways worse, than living in a private rental.  – Alyshia, RAHU member

Quotes attributable to Eirene Tsolidis Noyce – RAHU Secretary 

After decades of neglect, this is a step in the right direction from the Victorian Government, yet we need to see an explicit commitment to public housing. Public funds should be funding public resources.

The COVID crisis has exacerbated Victoria’s housing crisis, while this announcement comes as a potential relief, we only need to look to the United States to see what happens when public funding is funnelled into private gains. RAHU stands by our demand to fund public housing, we hope to see the Victorian Government meet that much needed demand. 

Media contact: Jesse James Francis: 0401 164 876 or email [email protected]

The Renters And Housing Union (VIC) is a newly formed, member-run Union of renters and people in precarious housing. We organise collectively to fight for the right to safe and secure housing through self-advocacy, education, and frontline eviction defence.

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