Victoria is not doing a good enough job on public housing


By Ben Wilson

It’s just not good enough. Only $82 is spent in Victoria per person, on what is broadly called social housing. Although the other states spend comparatively more, heir expenditure remains far from enough as well. This is a national issue. Not just a state one.

It is one of the reasons why the cost of housing is so high.

Social housing is a misleading term that is used to cover both public housing and other forms of not privately-owned housing. All are under resourced.

The Andrews government has embarked on a scheme where there is a claim, that partial privatisation of public housing estates, will lead to an increase in the public stock. This is not necessarily right and the refusal to date to make the details public has raised a great deal of suspicion.

In this context, public housing and the generic term social housing must be separated. Unless it is, it opens up the way to shove over existing housing stock to a process, which can easily lead to privatisation by stealth.

Developers are already making a killing out of their ability to get their hands on public land. A large proportion of this is devoted to the creation of private housing. Established communities are being ravaged, and there is no block to stopping more housing from going the way of the private market.

It is only the response of public housing tenants and their supporters that has prevented the situation form being even worse.

The importance of public housing is that it is much more suitable to a lot of people than the other forms under the social housing umbrella. The reason is that public housing is centrally managed through a government agency.

At a time when poverty is increasing and homelessness is becoming a more pronounced feature of Australian society, there is a great need for much more public housing and no less. It is true that the Andrews government has promised 1000 more public housing units within three years.

But this will not even keep up with the rising demand. The council for Homeless Persons says that 3,000 nits are needed each year for the next decade to meet the demand. Other organisations dealing with accommodation crisis tell the same story.

Although it is important to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, public housing should never be only about this. Designating it as charity, creates communities that tend to be cut off from the rest of society, and as experience has taught us, they can be victimised, left in a neglected environment in terms of ongoing maintenance, and have the rug pulled out from under them, when the market sets a premium on land, which is often in the city inner suburbs.

Public housing must be regarded as a means towards affordable housing for all.

If public housing is properly provided, many of the other categories under the umbrella of social housing may no longer be needed. The exception is where the residents are involvement in the management of the properties. But this is only for those for whom it is suitable, and this type of housing should never be provided at the expense of public housing.

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