New residents’ group forms in response to North Melbourne public housing demolition

New residents’ group forms in response to North Melbourne public housing demolition

By Sean Car & Jon Fleetwood

A first-of-its-kind public housing residents’ association has launched in North Melbourne in a bid to protect and guide vulnerable residents through the state government’s planned demolition of their homes.

The North Melbourne Public Housing Residents’ Association (NMPHRA) is a resident-led initiative focused on enhancing the wellbeing and quality of life for the 2000 residents of North Melbourne Public Housing Estate.

Now a registered incorporated organisation, the NMPHRA seeks to ensure that the most crucial decisions on issues ranging from housing quality and maintenance to social services and community development are made by those who are directly impacted.

The group held its official launch event at 33 Alfred St in North Melbourne on Saturday, June 29, and has already been thrust into action, with the towers on Alfred St slated among the first to go as part of the state government’s Big Housing Build.

The state government announced last year that it would demolish and redevelop 44 public housing towers across Melbourne by 2051 as the government looks to retire its aging housing stock.

But the NMPHRA’s inaugural secretary Ijabo Hassan told North West City News that residents still had no idea about how they would be supported and housed during the transition despite Homes Victoria earmarking Alfred St for redevelopment by 2031.

Established thanks to funding and support of the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing’s (DFFH) Paving the Way Forward program, Ms Hassan said one of the group’s main priorities was to advocate to the government for more information.

However, she questioned whether the information residents were seeking was “genuinely not available” or because decisions about their future weren’t being made in the interests of the community as they had been promised.

“They [state government] are being highly secretive about what the outcome and the future of this community is,” Ms Hassan told North West City News.

“When the announcement was made, there was a commitment that everyone will be allowed to come back, and that the same percentage of public households will be maintained.”

“Those commitments have now gone out the window.”

But a Victorian Government spokesperson told North West City News last month that “as these redevelopments progress, every public housing resident is guaranteed a home, with a right to return to newly redeveloped housing at their current rental conditions and rent settings.”

“This project is a long term one that will occur in stages and we’re working with residents and community one step at a time, every step of the way and in a culturally sensitive and appropriate way. A dedicated relocations team has commenced arranging appointments with renters in Flemington and North Melbourne towers,” the spokesperson said.

The government argues that it would cost an estimated $2.3 billion over 20 years just to keep the towers in a habitable condition, and that they failed against a range of parameters, such as noise, sustainability, waste and recycling, seismic, fire and flood risks, bedroom dimensions, room depth, ventilation, private open space, accessibility and minimum amenities.

It added that it had “knocked on every single door, all 5800 households across the towers, to make sure every resident has the support they need and their questions answered, with almost 150 interpreters as part of this to ensure residents could be heard in their primary language.”

As of April 9, 2024, it said that 93 per cent of all households had submitted a housing application to outline the type and location of housing they would like to move to.

Community Housing Limited is currently offering towers households new homes at Victoria St, Flemington, and around 77 further households have expressed an interest in these homes.

While the new residents’ group’s objectives remain largely focused on supporting renters through the redevelopment, organisers say the initiative had been brewing since 2020 when residents were forcibly detained in their homes during the COVID pandemic.

Despite the then Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass later finding that the move by the state government had violated Victorian human rights laws, the government has never formally apologised for its decision.

Residents in the Alfred St estate now face a much bigger challenge to defend their rights, however a class action launched against the government’s decision to demolish and redevelop the towers remains ongoing before the courts.

While the government had attempted to have the case thrown out in the Supreme Court in May, North West City News understands the case brought by Inner Melbourne Community Legal looks set to go to trial.

The class action on behalf of public housing residents in North Melbourne and Flemington alleges that the government had failed to properly consider the human rights of residents in its decision to redevelop the public housing towers by 2051.


Ms Hassan said that the “government is not considering the implications” of its “Big Build” on the “beautiful and prosperous” communities living in North Melbourne, and that a core focus of NMPHRA was to defend the rights of residents.


But this is something that Ms Hassan still feels is at risk due to the government choosing to pursue “privatisation” and handing control of the housing estates to not-for-profit organisations to run them as community housing.

Currently, there are 10,000 people living across the 44 towers but after all the sites are rebuilt, the state government said 30,000 people were expected to be housed, along with a boost of 10 per cent more social housing across the sites. However, it is reported that 11,000 would be public housing tenants, with 19,000 other residents “in a mixture of social and market housing”.

The 2023 announcement has been met with mixed reactions across the community, with some experts agreeing that the aging public housing stock was beyond repair, while others have made the case for restoration.

A recent “critical explainer” by academics from RMIT University’s Centre for Urban Research argued that the effects of displacement would prove harmful on residents’ health, wellbeing, and social connection.

“Displacement of low-income communities is known internationally to cause serious harm and death,” the authors wrote.

Ms Hassan fears for the health and safety of her mother who for the past 28 years has lived in the same public housing tower.

She said that public housing had helped her mother find connection and solace when she immigrated to Australia as a single parent from war-torn Somalia with seven kids.

“There were other people that had similar lived experiences which automatically created a space where she felt safe, secure and seen and was able to support her children to become flourishing members of society,” Ms Hassan said.

For Ms Hassan, who now works in a corporate role and leads a “very privileged life”, helping establish the NWMPRA is a way for her to give back to her mother and community.

She said the NMPHRA provided a forum for a broad spectrum of diverse residents’ voices to empower residents to actively participate in decision-making, foster inclusivity, and equity in all endeavours, and played a vital role in shaping a more vibrant community for all.

Membership is free and all adult residents in public housing in the North Melbourne precinct are eligible to become members and present their ideas, concerns, and proposals for action. The group meets once per month and all members are welcome to attend. •

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