Housing – along with food and clothing -is a basic human need.
Yet there are thousands of homeless on any one night in Melbourne. Public housing waiting lists continue to grow, and with almost no new public housing built in the past decade, available places go to those most in need. As a result, large numbers of those who would be eligible for public housing are missing out.
Yarra is home to the largest concentration of public housing in Victoria – mostly in the high rise towers in Collingwood, Fitzroy and Richmond. Built in the 1960s, these 22 storey towers house large numbers of people in apartments which are small, but have natural light, and are set in green, landscaped surroundings. These green landscapes help to keep the apartments cool in summer when temperatures inside can be intolerable. They also provide a meeting place for residents, a place to play for children, for communal and cultural celebrations, to grow fresh food in community gardens, for sports facilities and a sense of identity for the residents of these small villages. In Fitzroy the open space along Gertrude Street is an important gathering place in aboriginal cultural history.
The state government plan to build new housing on the open spaces at Richmond and Fitzroy has raised concerns among the local community and anxiety for public housing tenants. While details are still sketchy and the design brief has not been publicly released, it seems that new private housing and commercial premises will be built on the green open space and there will be no new public housing.
The Greens position on this proposal is clear:
- We oppose any net loss of green open space at these estates
- We oppose the sell-off of this public asset
- We believe there should be more public housing
- We support the Yarra Energy Foundation proposal to retrofit the apartments making them more energy efficient and comfortable.
We have taken the lead on Yarra Council to:
-oppose net loss of green open space
-survey residents around the estates about their views and
-ask the minister to release the design brief immediately
-demand a more open and transparent master planning process
- develop a council-developed alternative vision for the housing estates
Private developments on this open space would:
- Remove play and recreation areas for young people
-Remove the range of places residents can gather and socialise
-Remove the area available for large community festivals and celebrations
-Remove the cooling effect of green space and replace it with increased urban heat island effect from more hard surfaces
-Hand over a public asset to private developers
The rationale for this move is not clear.
A state government review of the provision of social housing in Victoria is underway but there are no recommendations as yet. This proposal seems to “jump the gun” with a solution, before identifying the problem.
Some statements have implied that there are social problems at the estates which would be solved by introducing a “mix” of new private housing.
There is no evidence of either a social problem to be solved, or that introducing new private housing improves life for public housing tenants. Fitzroy and Richmond are relatively affluent suburbs outside the estates. Introducing more relatively expensive housing onto the estates would do nothing to increase the diversity of housing available or guarantee a social “mix”.
There have also been statements about the need for public housing to “pay its way”. We don’t hear such statements made about public health or public education, public libraries, public parks, all paid for or subsidised by state or local governments because of the public good they provide.
With something as basic to human health and well-being as safe, secure housing, why would we expect public housing to be cost neutral? It’s the state’s responsibility to ensure housing, like food, is available to all.
If the sale of public housing land is to help balance the state budget, we ask why it is the state’s most vulnerable citizens who need to pay that price?