Public housing residents file lawsuit against the state government over housing demolition plan

Public housing residents file lawsuit against the state government over housing demolition plan
Brendan Rees

North Melbourne and Flemington public housing tower residents are taking legal action against the state government for wanting to demolish their homes, alleging their human rights were being disregarded.

Last September, the government announced that it would demolish and redevelop 44 housing towers across Melbourne, prompting a wave of uncertainty and fears of displacement among residents.

The North Melbourne towers are listed among the first to go along with estates in Carlton and Flemington at a yet-to-be specified time during the next 30 years.

Then-Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said, “unless we take bold and decisive action now, Victorians will be paying the price for generations to come”.

He was speaking of the housing statement and the government’s pledge to build 800,000 homes over the decade to 2034 to accommodate the state’s growing population, which is forecast to reach 10.3 million by 2051.

The tower at 33 Alfred St has been earmarked as the first tower to be demolished, with residents concerned about being forced out of their homes.

It’s understood they have also felt pressured and rushed by Homes Victoria to sign relocation agreements that they are not happy with. 

Inner Melbourne Community Legal (IMCL) has now filed a class action against the government at the Supreme Court of Victoria with the hearing heard on March 12, on behalf of public housing residents in North Melbourne and Flemington.

The writ, filed in late January, alleges the government “failed to properly consider the human rights of residents” when it made the decision to redevelop the public housing towers by 2051.

IMCL’s managing lawyer Louisa Bassini said an injunction halting the plan to demolish the public housing towers would allow residents an opportunity to have the court consider their application before their communities are relocated.

“The state government made the decision to demolish 44 public housing towers and change our city forever without providing Victorians with any information as to why this should occur. It decided to evict 10,000 people without explanation or input,” she said.

“The rights of people living in public housing matter. Their homes, families and communities are important. An open and transparent government is essential. The Victorian Government should not prefer expedited and secretive decision-making ahead of proper consideration of peoples’ rights.”


Public housing residents attend a community meeting at the North Melbourne Community Centre in February.


The lead plaintiff, Barry Berin, a resident of 23 years at 33 Alfred St, North Melbourne, has filed the class action on behalf of public housing residents in North Melbourne and Flemington, which means all people residing in the towers in these suburbs are automatically included in the legal proceedings.

He said the government’s decision was made “out of the blue” and that not a lot of clear information was being shared, and residents “still don’t know what to expect”.

“They haven’t set a date in terms of when the demolish the buildings,” Mr Berin said.

“Nobody knows what’s going on. It’s going to be very chaotic [relocating].”

“My role is to not only put my name out there but also making sure the right information is out there in the community.”

Currently, there are 10,000 people living across the 44 towers, which range from 50 to 70 years old, 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 Department of Families, Fairness and Housing last year said its relocation teams were working with translators and community leaders and participating in briefing sessions, community meetings, and pop-up information stalls to provide renters with information about the project, listen to their questions, and discuss the process for relocating.

Greens State MP for Melbrourne Ellen Sandell said the government was “tearing public housing communities apart with very little regard for residents”.

“There was no consultation with residents prior to the Labor Government deciding to demolish all public housing towers, and residents were shocked to hear from the media that their homes would be demolished, and that the majority of public housing land would be privatised,” she said.

“Residents have a right to be angry and have a right to have their voices heard. I fully support residents in their class action.”

Several public housing community meetings have been held in recent months including at the North Melbourne Community Centre on February 26, which heard from public housing advocates and residents from the Barak Beacon who have lobbied against the government for wanting to demolish their estate in Port Melbourne.

For more on this issue and the recent meeting on February 26, read Melbourne MP Ellen Sandell’s column. •

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