The state government's newly-announced redevelopment of public housing in Delacombe has left residents distressed and unsure of their future, with some who have lived in the estate for 30 or 40 years being told they will lose their homes.
Fighting the stereotype of 'The Horseshoe' being solely a place of dysfunction and crime, residents spoke to The Courier this week to express anger and disbelief at how their lives have been thrown into turmoil by the plan to demolish 66 houses, replacing them with 181 higher-density units.
They want to counter some of the attacks made on them by the public, who say the streets should be bulldozed and their homes levelled; that the residents are 'trash' and the suburb 'a tip'. They want answers from the government. Why were they sent letters saying their homes were being demolished - on a Saturday? Why did no-one talk to them face-to-face?
No-one denies the area has social problems and there are neglected, and ruined, houses. There is crime, and violence. The state government says its program will address these issues, build new public spaces and remove some of the bad design of the 1970s. Critics say the plan is designed to offload public housing into the private sector.
The main goal here is to transfer stock, management and responsibility to the community housing industryDr David Kelly
But, say the residents, there is also a community here. Some of Ballarat's most vulnerable people have built a life in the crescent and the courts. They know each other, support each other and look out for each other, especially in the present uncertainty of the COVID pandemic, where many have lost work.
There are no easy answers in public housing: the residents acknowledge this; the government, housing bodies, the City of Ballarat, tenants associations and unions; all understand how difficult it is over many years to build and maintain social housing stock adequately.
Critics of the government's 'Big Housing Build' say it's unlikely to deliver any meaningful increase in stock for people on the Victorian Housing Register (VHR) in Ballarat.
Dr David Kelly of the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT says the forced relocation of tenants will also likely cost millions because of the requirement to take out private leases, demolition of homes, loss of rental income, and the cost of caring for the health deterioration of tenants.
He says it's not yet clear how many of the the 180 new dwellings will be community, affordable and market dwellings.
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"But they are not all going to be 'social housing', a term that entered the discourse in the last decade to obfuscate the primary goal of stock transfer, or privatisation, Dr Kelly says.
"The compounding effect of the global health crisis with the housing crisis is likely to throw many more people into housing precarity. Huge amounts of public housing should be built in order to support those falling into rental and housing stress in the coming years, particularly in the regions.
"The main goal here is to transfer stock, management and responsibility to the community housing industry. Community housing providers who have signed up to the VHR only have to allocate 75 per cent of their allocations to people on the VHR - public housing generally allocates 100 per cent from the VHR priority waitlist list, those most in need.
Public housing and social housing are not the same thing, although the government is obviously hoping that people won't notice this rhetorical sleight of handRAHU
"Rent is 30 per cent of household income in community housing, and only 25 per cent in public. Eviction rates are much higher in community housing, and providers are not covered by the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities."
The Victorian Public Tenants Association (VPTA), recognised as the peak body representing public housing tenants in Victoria, says the state government's Big Housing Build, and the plans for Delacombe, are an unprecedented and important investment, but there are drawbacks.
"The VPTA is very disappointed that Big Housing Build properties are not going to be publicly owned and managed," says acting CEO Katelyn Butterss.
"We're urging the Government to ensure that publicly-owned and managed properties form a central pillar in the upcoming 10 Year Social and Affordable Housing Strategy - they are the best weapon we have against homelessness."
The Renters and Housing Union (RAHU) is a member-run union of renters and people in precarious housing, formed through the Rentstrike as a response to COVID19. A spokesperson said RAHU is appalled about the situation unfolding in Delacombe.
"Many of our members have been plunged into insecurity and precarity, with all the attendant mental and physical health costs, after enduring similar sneaky conversions of their existing public housing into "social" or "affordable" housing.
"Public housing and social housing are not the same thing, although the government is obviously hoping that people won't notice this rhetorical sleight of hand. We know the dire consequences the policies concealed by such rhetorical tricks can have on our members, and the only way we as renters and people in precarious housing can stand up for our rights is to stand together."
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.