The profit motive in Vic. public housing sell-off



The Victorian state government is continuing to evade its responsibility to provide affordable housing.

Artist's impression of the proposed redevelopment at Walker Street in Northcote, Vic.Widespread community concern about the state government's proposed plans to sell the majority of public land on existing public housing estates for private development has meant a public inquiry into the matter will be delayed.

The response date for the Public Housing Renewal Proposal (PHRP) inquiry has been delayed from 20 March to 5 June due to an overwhelming amount of evidence received. The Legislative Council Standing Committee's (LCSC) inquiry asked for submissions about PHRP but, according to LCSC administrative officer Joanne Bush, the committee needed more time to look at the evidence, including the 172 inquiries submissions.

Of the 159 publicly available submissions, only 22 were in favour of the PHRP, claiming they agreed with the government that current public housing estates were old and in short supply. The plan includes a ten per cent increase in social housing after the redevelopment; the majority of submissions, including those in favour of the plan, said a ten per cent increase was inadequate. This is because there are currently over 35,000 Victorians on the public housing waiting list and many people are on the waiting list for 15 years.

Submissions expressed confusion about the term 'social housing', which is an umbrella term for public housing and community housing. The distinction is that public housing is government owned while community housing is privately owned. Unlike community housing, public housing provides security and affordable housing.

Yet the state and federal governments continue to use the term 'social housing' in what seems to be an attempt to confuse people. As they rarely explain the term, it is almost impossible to know if they are referring to community or public housing. When people are continuously confused about the terms government officials use, it is extremely difficult to fight against them. Public housing tenants' rights are dissolved as they are unable to know if they will lose their homes or if their homes will be improved.

Community housing tenant and public housing advocate Martina Macey said the government would profit by selling off public housing properties. 'The land was "stolen" under the Reclamation Act for the exact purposes of public housing. For any government to do a backflip on this to make a profit, especially since there are 35,000-plus on the waiting list, is disgraceful,' she said.


"This plan will not improve the housing crisis, nor provide upgraded living conditions for current public housing tenants."


An email obtained under a Freedom of Information request by members of the Ashburton Residents' Action Group (ARAG) has confirmed this. The document contained an email which said the state government expected a 'super profit' from the sale of public land. This raises questions as to the real intention behind selling these properties. Perhaps it is not to increase and improve public housing but, rather, to sell it off to private housing associations or companies just to make a profit.

Many submissions identified the government's lack of transparency with the plan. Many public housing tenants claimed they had received misleading or incorrect information about the proposed housing layout. There is also confusion about whether the ten per cent increase will include one, two or three-bedroom units. Some submissions said if their three-bedroom unit was redeveloped into a one-bedroom unit, they would no longer have a home.

ARAG's submission included this concern, stating that residents 'were told in very forceful terms that any changes to the size and scale of the plans were non-negotiable' — a further indication that this sell-off of public land may be more concerned with profit than with rebuilding and improving public housing estates in Victoria.

West Heidelberg Community Legal Service and the City of Darebin Council stated in their submissions that the ten per cent increase of social housing would actually result in an overall decrease in public housing by 31 units in West Heidelberg and 66 units in Darebin's Walker Street redevelopment.

The selling-off of public housing will increase homelessness because there will be a decline in affordable rental properties due to a huge decrease in public housing. This plan will not improve the housing crisis, nor provide upgraded living conditions for current public housing tenants.

As Jorge Luis Borges wrote in The South, 'Blind to all fault, destiny can be ruthless at one's slightest distraction.' The state government's misleading, confusing and incorrect information should not distract us. Public housing is being reduced and the state government is not attempting to address the housing crisis.



Madeline GourlayMadeline Gourlay is a Monash University student, originally from Narromine, NSW.

Main image: Artist's impression of the proposed redevelopment at Walker Street in Northcote, Vic.

Topic tags: Madeline Gourlay, homelessness, public housing



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Existing comments

This is far too important a topic to let incorrect reporting and analysis go unchecked. The author states “The distinction is that public housing is government owned while community housing is privately owned. Unlike community housing, public housing provides security and affordable housing.” This is a gross distortion of the facts and is very misleading. Community housing is owned by not-for-profit community organisations with onerous levels of govt regulation and accountability. The only growth in social housing for many years in Vic has been via community housing providers. Furthermore, community housing does provide secure and affordable housing with most residents on the lowest of incomes. There are many flaws in the model of the current Vic govt’s redevelopment plans but to say that it would not result in upgraded living conditions for existing tenants cannot be taken seriously. The author does the cause no good by pitching a conspiracy theory based on falsehoods. The under investment by national & state govts past and present is what must be held to account. To see community housing providers scapegoated in this way is neither fair nor informing. Editorial responsibility re fact checking not in play?
Jennifer | 18 May 2018

Great article by Madeline Gourlay and thanks to Eureka St for publishing it. Martina Macey is a Community Housing tenant, but she is a public housing advocate and activist, believing that public housing is the superior system. We are very proud to have Martina as a member of Friends of Public Housing Vic.
Fiona Ross | 18 May 2018

How much public housing could they have provided with the money that they threw away by cancelling the cross city tunnel!
Jenny O'Rourke | 21 May 2018

The recent furore in Sydney over the sale of housing commission accommodation in The Rocks drew attention to the vulnerability of residents. The government justified the sale by stating that the large revenue generated would assist many more on the public housing waiting list. Some commentators pointed to the fact that public housing should be spread throughout Sydney and not restricted to areas deemed "housing commission no-go zones". Instead of paying rent public housing clients should be helped to pay very low-interest loans and thus eventually own their property outright. This was the case a number of years ago and I'm unsure if this is still an available option. If not, it should be.
Pam | 21 May 2018

Jennifer, this is not a conspiracy and many people report issues with community housing, such as, not having locks on doors, uncapped rent and no cause evictions which allow housing providers to evict residents without providing any reason. Additionally, housing providers like the Salvation Army cherry pick their tenants and deliberately avoid giving housing to LGBTIQ+ community members. Friends of Public Housing on Facebook has a wealth of information that you may find informative.
Alex | 21 May 2018

It is apparent that idealogical predilections make no difference when it comes to social issues such as public housing or climate change. With the best of intentions, (Australian) governments of any political hue are firmly rooted in the quagmire of commercial interests. The current state incumbents, notwithstanding its breast-beating rhetoric for a fairer deal for its constituents, are still subject to the whims of the money bags. In other words, there is simply no profit for someone, in public housing. What is sorely needed, is a better informed and educated electoral base, and a government (whatever its political colour) that cuts through the prevailing political excrement, and do something beneficial for all its constituents. It's up to all of us to make this happen.
Alex Njoo | 23 May 2018

I have to agree with Jennifer. Community housing is not perfect, but then, neither is public housing. There is never going to be a time when government can keep increasing the supply of public housing as infinitum. There's never going to be a time when government doesn't have to face the problem of the increasing bill for rates on publicly owned property, including housing. (I grew up in public housing - my working parents were able to buy their house from the Housing Commission when most of us had left home. They couldn't do that today, given how the rates in that area have ballooned). We have to look at a variety of ways of providing housing for people on low incomes, and community housing is one of those ways. All this doesn't mean I disagree with the main point of this article. I've often wondered where all the money is coming from for the new government projects that seem to be announced every day in Victoria.
Joan Seymour | 24 May 2018

Jennifer, I dispute your facts, up until the end of 2016 financial year, there has only been 360 or so Community Housing units built despite $B being diverted from Public Housing purse. Public Housing has it's issues as well but not at the expense of its tenants. As Steve Staikos (formerly of CHIA vic) stated, community housing can't build without gov input. The gov did, but where did the $m go? Why should Gov invest in property they won't own? He also stated each Provider is an individual business with their wown policies. Jennifer, get out of the Board room of your NFP and you might see that your provider (under previous name) has one of the worst records in relation to how they treat tenants
Martina | 01 March 2019


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