COVID outbreaks

COVID outbreaks
Cory Memery

The government’s response has not been police-led as with last year’s lockdowns – a welcome change! They are meeting with communities in online sessions and there is organised support with food and other resident needs.

The deplorable state of lifts in towers has, though, added huge levels of anxiety. Despite a large allocation of funds last year in the government’s first response to the pandemic, it has not been translated into fixing these problems in towers where outbreaks continue.

Residents and community groups from the Carlton housing estate are soon meeting with Minister for Housing Richard Wynne to discuss the safety, security and overcrowding issues, among other things. We are highly skilled residents, we will ask for some control of management, we have lived experience.  

As per the Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass’s recommendation to have fully-funded residents’ committees on public housing estates, this will be high on the agenda.

Overcrowding reduction has been a botched program with households sent all over Melbourne, breaking connections with local networks and friends and now face uncertainty over long-term housing security.

Homelessness 

In my August column I described the homelessness crisis in our state. This month the state government has to provide a formal response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Homelessness:  parliament.vic.gov.au/lsic-lc/inquiries/inquiry/976 and there were a lot of organisations demanding it be addressed.

Grassroots campaigns like Geelong Homelessness Action Group (GHAG) have recently stated that the government is “lying” to the people of Victoria (their words not mine) …

“Today at the COVID presser in response to questions about housing people experiencing homelessness the state government went into spin overdrive. [Martin] Foley stated people are being housed under the state’s Big Build project, give us a break! There’s currently over 110,000 people on the Housing Register, that’s 52,000 household applications and we know there’s many more people needing housing that are not even registered. The Big Build is proposing a meagre 12,000 properties over four years. We’re not fooled by spin, this government is not doing enough and is lying to the people of Victoria” (GHAG Facebook page 19/8/21).

The Save Public Housing Collective (SPHC) is tracking what is happening on demolished and other public housing estates (map.savepublichousing.com) and it is clear that GHAG are not unfair in their assessment. 

One of the Big Housing Build projects taking in three demolished public housing sites, including at Victoria St and Holland Court in Flemington, won’t have any construction starting until 2024 at the earliest. Read more at infrastructurepipeline.org.

The Holland Court demolition and redevelopment will have ZERO public housing built; there is no clarity on accommodating people who are homeless; only promises of market rental housing (yes market rents on public land!), some affordable (less than local market) probably for “essential workers” – teachers, nurses, etc., and community housing which pushes tenants into housing cost stress with rents set at 30 per cent of household income and other charges for use of facilities on site. 

The National Housing Finance Investment Corporation (NHFIC) created by Scott Morrison when he was the federal treasurer, which is not funding any new public housing, was able to quickly find $400 million to help fund the three sites project soon after it was announced without any publicly available due diligence on why.

NSW already a disaster with this approach

The NSW Tenants Union recently exposed this approach by governments to how they fund new housing: tenants.org.au/blog/tale-alan-and-annie-living-affordable-housing-and-retiring-paid-work

Outcomes: nothing but insecurity!

The policy is all about a new class of Australian and overseas private investors, including superannuation funds, making profits out of destroying public housing. Essential workers are brought in to engage them in gentrification and forced displacements of the very people they care for and educate and should be in solidarity with.

Ethical, real experts in housing support public housing 

Dr Tim Williams is one of these experts. Dr Williams in the past was the chief executive of the Committee for Sydney:

thefifthestate.com.au/columns/spinifex/the-reasons-behind-our-housing-crisis-are-clear-if-we-care-to-look/

In my past columns I have drawn readers attention to Dr David Hayward’s (Emeritus Professor at RMIT) opinion piece on the intrinsic value of public housing: 

smh.com.au/business/the-economy/private-landlords-are-losing-billions-should-we-keep-picking-up-the-tab-20210615-p58154.html

Housing should be a human right in Victoria 

The Victorian Government has an opportunity to lead Australia in committing to a program of public housing build which will start the journey to delivering this human right. This can happen this month when it responds to the Parliamentary Inquiry.

The government has initiated a review of what it calls social housing regulations in Victoria. Social housing is now a very flexible term in our state. Affordable housing is included and the terms of reference talks about setting up regulations to enable “competitive neutral” bidding for state funds against public housing. The review has the very strong appearance of working to deliver the NSW nightmare.

I call on the state government to observe what I believe is its existing obligations to the UN Covenant on Housing and this should be the principal outcome of the Review.

COVID responses and housing insecurity have to be dealt with together in Victoria.

If there are remaining doubts on Victoria’s obligations, it can be legislated and then backed with a massive build of public housing •

For more information:

change.org/p/daniel-andrews-prioritise-public-housing-to-protect-the-most-vulnerable

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