Public housing has a vital role to play in our community, especially here in inner Melbourne. But currently our public housing is in crisis: many homes are run down, and suffer from poor maintenance and security.
There are over 35,000 people on the public housing waiting list. While they wait, they may be sleeping rough, couch-surfing or under severe financial stress for many years.
Now Melbourne’s public housing residents, and our community, are facing a new threat.
The Victorian Andrews Labor Government plans to sell-off publicly-owned land on public housing estates across Melbourne to private developers.
The private developers will get to build a swathe of new private apartment blocks. In return, all they have to do is rebuild public housing with a measly 10% increase in current units.
It’s not a good deal for public housing tenants or for the communities that live near them. It’s also a bad deal for Victorians.
For a start, selling off public land means we will never, ever get it back.
Secondly, private developers will reap significant profits from this plan, with very little community benefit in return. Residents will lose precious open space and we also lose a valuable public asset in the land.
Social benefits did not improve for public housing residents when a similar redevelopment was undertaken in Carlton, according to research from the University of Melbourne. It just led to huge profits for private developers.
To maximise profits, private developers might also build massive private apartment complexes that simply do not fit with the local neighbourhood.
Thirdly, a 10% increase in public housing units will only put a very small dent in the 35,000-long wait-list for social housing.
In fact, the developers are only required to increase the number of public housing units - not the total number residents that can live there. So they may replace a 3-bedroom apartment with 3 studio apartments. Where will families go?
And finally, the plan is unsustainable. As Dr Kate Shaw from the University of Melbourne put it, selling off public land to build public housing is “a little like keeping the front of the house warm by chopping up the back for firewood...At some point, further investment will be required and there will be no land left to sell."
Our public housing absolutely needs upgrading. We need better maintenance and security. But the Government should simply stump up the money to do it themselves - rather than letting developers make profits from our public land.
We need a new large-scale build of public housing, like in the 1960s.
We can increase the amount of public housing in Australia by making it a condition of new developments - such as building thousands of new public housing units in the proposed E-Gate development in the inner-west of Melbourne.
Unfortunately, instead, the Andrews Government has scrapped plans for a new suburb on the E-gate site and decided this land is better used for a spaghetti-junction of on-and-off ramps for its new West Gate Tunnel. This toll road will funnel thousands more cars onto the streets of inner Melbourne, including North Melbourne, West Melbourne, Parkville and the Docklands.
This plan to sell off public land is the wrong way to go.
In August, the Greens and I successfully moved in Parliament for an urgent Parliamentary Inquiry into this public land sell-off plan. The inquiry will shine a light on the flaws in the plan.
I’ll be campaigning to reverse these poor decisions, alongside my colleague and Federal Greens MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt. If you’re also concerned about the sell-off of public land, please sign our petition to fix housing.
Ellen Sandell is the State Member for Melbourne