FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 22nd September, 2023

This article is in response to Labor’s Housing Package, which can be found here.

RAHU supports the principles of protecting renters’ rights. The principles of this proposal take some positive steps toward this. However, as a complete package, it’s a lot to be desired and there’s a lot of work to be done.

Safe and secure housing is a human right. If the housing crisis has demonstrated one thing, it is that the safety of our community cannot be entrusted to the decisions of market investors and those who see housing as nothing more than a money-making scheme. Unfortunately, Labor’s current draft of the Housing Package moves public housing and public land out of our community and into the private market.

The report states, “The fundamental truth is this: we’re not building enough homes”. We reject this statement. There were nearly 300,000 unoccupied dwellings in 2021 and 30,660 homeless people. The “fundamental truth” is not the lack of new stock. The “fundamental truth” is that with property hoarding, market absolutism and the privatisation of public land, the housing crisis will only worsen.

Primary to our concerns is the Government’s alarming trend of reducing public housing stock and leaving renters to the whims of the market. This is off the back of the Andrews government, announcing the eviction of 10,000 residents across 44 public housing towers, to demolish said towers and sell, or lease, the land to private developers. This proposal is an extension of that. ‘Public Housing’ appears in this document 7 times; three of those times, it is in relation to either its destruction or its conversion to social housing. For reference, affordable housing is mentioned 39 times. We do not believe that the definition of ‘affordable housing’ currently written into law will meet a reasonable person’s standard of affordability. Using public land for private development is unconscionable.

That is not to say we are against the construction of new housing. In fact, we consider a lot of housing in Victoria to be inadequate. We know. Renters live in the worst of it. We believe that we can end this crisis through the construction of new homes in existing areas. We also need to be spot-purchasing and renovating existing homes, using the ‘Retain, Repair, and Reinvest’ model wherever possible. We could end it while rejecting urban sprawl by building up, not out. We could end it by massively adding to the public housing stock, 10% of all housing in every suburb to put genuine downward pressure on the housing market. We could end it by changing the legal definition of affordable housing to mean ‘no more than 30% of an individual’s income’ so that affordable housing can be genuinely affordable. We could end it by restricting property banking and land banking through forceful acquisition; this is no different to how the government currently acquires properties – occupied in those cases – so that they may build a train line, or a highway, or build market housing on. We could end it with a genuine attempt at enforcing regulations. We could end it by putting a cap on rental increases.

There are several points raised in this document that remain undefined or have been presented without adequate or timely clarity. We look forward to the details and the Government’s plan on determining organisations which they believe can address the housing crisis. We cautiously support a ‘Rental Support Package’; however, the fact that this information wasn’t released with the proposal and that we have to wait until Monday to get that information, leaves us concerned about its currently undefined beneficiaries. Furthermore, we’re all for the spirit of the Metropolitan Planning Strategy in broad strokes. However, it would require changes to the Planning and Environment Act 1987 which Labor aren’t willing to reveal at this time. 

Then there are the inadequacies. From our talks with Labor advisors, the new “Rental Dispute Resolution Victoria” body will have no teeth, which will not help the backlog of VCAT and Consumer Affairs Victoria applications. Many policies appear to encourage urban sprawl and greenfield development, which many of us in the union have an issue with. Finally, there’s short-stay accommodation, whilst being a step in the right direction, is inadequate to address the massive impact it has on the availability of long-term housing. Short-stay accommodation must have regulations such as being limited to primary residences only. The 7.5% flat tax is a joke; this proposed tax must be a progressive tax. As it currently stands, it will only affect smaller landlords while leaving larger landlords mostly unaffected. 

We would love to support several proposals in this housing statement, such as improvements to building standards, the bans on rental bidding, and fixed-term rental agreements. The rental bond scheme, which allows your bond to move when you do, could be a massive quality of life improvement for renters. That said, these changes are still within a framework that remains market-absolutist and is currently packaged alongside a number of truly woeful proposals, some which may even be considered anti-democratic and anti-working-class.

It is imperative that assurances are put in place to ensure that bad landlords and corporations are held accountable for the housing crisis which they are disproportionately responsible for. RAHU considers Labor’s Housing Package a draft. We cannot sign off on ambiguous ideals that have not been entirely determined, and cannot be entirely revealed, and may end up being executed in such a way that ends up harming renters. However, we anticipate that, with good-faith consultation to address any and all concerns adequately, not only with RAHU but with other community organisations and experts, we believe we could come to an agreement. To make a proposal that works for all of us.

J.R. Hewitt
Media and Communications Officer
0437 227 463
Email: [email protected]

The Renters And Housing Union (RAHU) is Australia’s largest member-run Union of renters and people in precarious housing. We collectively organise for the right to safe and secure housing through self-advocacy, education, and frontline eviction defence.  

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