The decision by the Andrews government to open its 'Big Housing Build' by demolishing 66 homes of people and families in Delacombe and try to sell it as a 'win for everyone' is a classic case of a government believing its own spin.
What is really happening in Delacombe is another example of how state governments of both persuasions have continued their purge of public housing responsibility. In 2017 then minister for housing Martin Foley said "the state is a terrible housing manager." His statement was another in a long line of governments shifting away from the principle of the state having a responsibility to house the less-well-off. The government doesn't want to be a landlord.
The 'Big Housing Build' - a terribly juvenile name for an initiative that grotesquely oversells what it is trying to achieve - is a deceptive series of documents, trying to cover up its true agenda, the diminution of public housing stocks in Victoria. It's paternalistic and doesn't truly engage with the community.
Every expert The Courier contacted in regard to this issue repeated the same conclusion: the state government does not want the burden of maintenance of public housing any longer. It wants to transfer that cost to other bodies, at the expense of the security of the vulnerable.
Historically, public housing - what was once called Housing Commission - in Victoria has suffered from a chronic lack of investment. Victoria spends roughly half per capita on public housing compared to NSW or Queensland, and much less than the Northern Territory.
Some of this doesn't bear comparison. There are social and historical differences between the states. But even the Victorian government acknowledges public housing is underfunded. Since the mid-1990s, from the Kennett era into the last 30 years of Labor governments, public housing has been atrociously lacking in Victoria.
While the Kennett government defunded housing advisory bodies, subsequent Labor governments have slowly reduced the amounts they are willing to spend on housing, and have shifted the focus through changes of terminology. There are now subtle semantic and legal shifts between what is 'public' housing and what is 'social' housing, what is 'community' housing and what is 'affordable' housing.
You will never understand How it feels to live your life With no meaning or control And with nowhere left to goJarvis Cocker, Pulp, Common People
What is happening is the burden of costs - building, maintenance, support - is being moved onto the private sector. While this may seem to make economic sense, the real outcome is an increase in vulnerability for the most vulnerable in society, because outsourcing, no matter what governments say, can never be adequately regulated. Someone will always find a way to undercut, to minimise, to deliver less while getting paid more.
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- Ballarat welfare groups welcome a $5.3bn government initiative for public housing
- Delacombe set for $50 million social housing overhaul
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- Councillors, police and aid bodies await a joint response from DHHS about Creswick
- Roundtable between Hepburn Shire, police, government departments and assistance bodies to address issues in Creswick
- A housing explainer: Facts and figures about social housing in Victoria.(govt site)
- Why should the state wriggle out of providing public housing?
But there is a bigger philosophical issue at stake here, and it is the question of what kind of society are we willing to live in going into the future. Inequality and inequity are rising. Wages between the lowest paid and those at the top of the spectrum are further apart than ever.
The neoliberal experiment, where the market decides everything, including whether you deserve to get adequate health and social care, is the default position for both Labor and Liberal politicians. And so public housing is seen as a burden on the taxpayer, rather than a legitimate expense for having an underclass who are there to fill out the growing gig economy.
Many people - most of whom have never lived in public housing - like to point out what goes wrong in government-built and maintained estates. High rates of crime, they say, and entitled sense of ownership of what is taxpayer-provided property.
'People don't care for their homes, they don't mow their lawns, they leave cars in their yards... they are all drug addicts, they don't go to school,' are some of the quotes from social media about the Delacombe redevelopment this week.
Some of this is true - and it's true for any other suburb as well. People don't always do their best, and it can be hard to live with. There are huge problems in the streets around Leawarra Crescent, but they are failures of state government policy as much as the failure of human nature.
As Jarvis Cocker of Pulp said so succinctly: You will never understand/How it feels to live your life/With no meaning or control/And with nowhere left to go
What the government is doing here is taking away the residents' agency, community, security and history. To tell a person they must move from their home, their perfectly good home, after 20 or 30 or 40 years - is to reinforce in that person their worth as a human being is not as great as the rest of society. Homes Victoria acknowledges this is a profoundly difficult situation. More than one person The Courier spoke to this week discussed the possibility of ending their life.
We need to have compassion for these people, not condemnation. They are us; in any other situation, we could be in their place.
The Courier sent the following questions to the government's new Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, which oversees Homes Victoria. The Courier also requested a copy of the redevelopment plan and a timeline.
This is a Homes Victoria redevelopment? There is no public/private partnership here?
(Redacted) said this is also about a 'black hole of maintenance'. Can we confirm part oi the decision is that the government doesn't want to keep spending on these homes as they think they are coming to the end of their working lives? How does this compare with older social housing in the inner city? Why are these failing?
How does Homes Victoria reconcile wanting to 'improve and increase' 'social and affordable housing' with the inevitable pressure of having more vulnerable people on the same footprint? Surely this is going to require increase investment and increased policing. Isn't it wishful thinking of the most dangerous kind to expect putting more people into an already fraught space will not result in more problems, crime, DFV, crowding, maintenance issues?
Why isn't Homes Victoria looking at new developments? For example a housing estate is proposed for BWEZ why aren't new, best practice social/public housing homes proposed for that ? Do developers resist having public housing in the land they are using for developments?
How were the clients/tenants/residents chosen for relocation? Who is going to manage the relocation? Why weren't the residents consulted face to face before getting a letter? Why were they addressed as The Resident? (Redacted) says we didn't have time. Why didn't Homes Victoria have time, given this was in the pipeline since the 2018 budget and before?
Does Homes Victoria recognise how deeply distressing these evictions are going to be? Can you give me a process of how the allegedly forthcoming consultations will be handled? (Redacted) says no one will be moved until they agree to be moved, but that is obviously not the case if a home is already slated for demolition?
Can we use the word 'eviction'? It seems obfuscatory to say 'relocation'. these people are losing their homes, lives and memories. Can the dept/Homes Victoria give the residents more agency in what's happening? Or will they be required to 'do what they are told?' Will those who are evicted return to 'public' housing?
What is the breakdown of tenures in the new housing? Who is going to manage these tenures? How many people from the priority waitlist of the VHR are amongst them?
The Courier received the following response from the department:
We know that moving home can be a difficult and we will support Delacombe residents that need to relocate while we build them new, comfortable, safe homes every step of the way. The letter to residents was a first step in the relocation process, and we are opening the conversations with renters well ahead of time.
Community consultation in 2019 and 2020 helped shape the key directions for the future of social and affordable housing in Delacombe. This has included letterbox drops, on-site project team visits and meetings with the next step being feedback on the draft masterplan in July.
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