“This was out of the blue”: public housing community left in limbo
A community leader at the North Melbourne public housing estate has voiced concerns regarding the recent announcement to demolish and redevelop 44 housing towers across Melbourne, which has prompted a wave of uncertainty and fears of displacement among residents.
Barry Berin, a resident of 23 years at 33 Alfred St, North Melbourne, said many people he had spoken to were feeling anxious and uncertain about the potential impact the redevelopment would have on their lives, including relocating to unfamiliar areas.
“They didn’t plan this properly. This was out of the blue. It wasn’t communicated to us about what was happening,” he said of the 4000 people who live in the estate.
The North Melbourne towers are listed as one of the first to be knocked down along with estates in Carlton and Flemington at some as yet unspecified point during the next 30 years.
The towers have been a prominent feature of the community; however, their ageing infrastructure has required the government to act.
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”.
Speaking on behalf of residents, Mr Berin said while he understood the need for improvements, the way the announcement had been made was reminiscent of the sudden COVID-19 lockdown, during which residents were confined to their homes in 2020, without prior notice.
“I saw it [the announcement] on the newsfeed on my phone,” he said.
There’s a lot of elderlies in our building, a lot of people who don’t speak English. For me, it’s very shocking. We don’t know what’s going on or happening.
Mr Berin, who heads a group called Young Australian People, which provides employment pathways for people residing in public housing within the inner city, said it was disheartening that residents were once again left in the dark.
“They’re trying to figure out their plans, but I just said, ‘we’ve got to wait and see.’ You can’t do anything,” he said, adding it was important open dialogue sessions were conducted with the community and that their voices were heard.
Pampas St public housing resident Deepa Gupta, an active member of resident action groups aimed at improving the lives of public housing residents, said the news had been devastating for everyone.
She said a meeting was convened by the State’s Department of Families, Fairness and Housing for public housing residents of North Melbourne and Kensington, which was held at the Djerring Flemington Hub on September 26, with representatives Homes Victoria also present.
However, Ms Gupta said the 60 residents who attended were left feeling disappointed in the meeting’s outcomes, saying it may “show that residents are included but had no inclusion whatsoever”, noting there was an absence of specific details about the redevelopment or its framework.
Ms Gupta said she would continue her advocacy efforts, demanding transparency, and meaningful community involvement in the redevelopment plans, “and for decisions which may impact residents”.
“This decision impacts residents in different ways regarding schooling, hospital, care, disability, jobs, etc and no one know what’s going to be at the end of the road,” she said.
While the announcement has gained some support from advocates and community groups, the prospect of a public-private partnership with land being sold to developers has prompted fears it “could be the end of public housing in Victoria”.
The Greens have demanded that the estates were rebuilt with 100 per cent public housing, and “not expensive private apartments”.
“Without this, the public housing waiting list and rental stress will continue to grow,” State Greens MP for Melbourne Ellen Sandell said.
Public Housing Residents’ Network and Save Public Housing Collective spokesperson Cory Memery said if the towers were knocked down “it’s going to be a relocation camp”.
“There are better ways to do it. They can retain, repair, and reinvest the money and keep people in the same communities they’re already living in without disrupting their kids from school, their hospitals, or their community,” he said.
The North Melbourne Language and Learning centre (NMLL), based at 33 Alfred St, North Melbourne, said they had received several inquiries from residents regarding the redevelopment plans, and believed it was “crucial for resident concerns to be addressed comprehensively”.
“Many residents are understandably concerned about the potential impact on their established communities. They worry about the disruption caused by relocation, the uncertainty surrounding the details of the process, and whether the new housing units will maintain their affordability and accessibility as public housing,” the NMLL said.
“Given the diverse linguistic backgrounds of the residents, it’s crucial for the government to provide clear and accessible information in multiple languages. This will ensure that all residents can fully comprehend the details of the project, the relocation process, and their rights as tenants.”
The NMLL said it strongly advocated for equitable access to information and services for all community members, regardless of their language proficiency.
“We would like to see clear and transparent communication from the government about the redevelopment plans. This should include confirming that the newly developed housing will remain public, ensuring that residents are provided with suitable temporary housing during the redevelopment, and offering support to those affected by the changes.”
A Homes Victoria spokesperson said staff had “knocked on every single door across the towers to make sure every resident has the support they deserve and will continue to support these communities through the process”.
“Renters relocated to temporary accommodation will have the option to return to their neighbourhoods as new homes are completed where possible and eligible,” the spokesperson said.
The Department said its relocation teams were working with translators and community leaders and participating in briefing sessions, community meetings, staffing a dedicated 1800- number, and pop-up information stalls to provide renters with information about the project, listen to their questions, and for Flemington and North Melbourne, to discuss the process for relocating.
“We are also reaching out directly to each renter at the two sites to understand their needs and provide individual support.”
A public rally titled Save Our Public Housing will be held at Harmsworth St, Collingwood on Saturday, October 21 at 2pm. Among the speakers will be Senator Lidia Thorpe, who is a former Collingwood public housing resident. The event is being organised by City of Yarra councillors Stephen Jolly, Michael Glynatsis, and Bridget O’Brien. •