Extend public housing to meet the crisis

[The following statement was released by Sean Brocklehurst, Socialist Alliance candidate for Pascoe Vale, and Sarah Hathway, Socialist Alliance candidate for Geelong, on November 8.]

Victoria has a housing crisis. According to the 2011 census, 22,773 Victorians were homeless at that time. Many more people are barely able to afford rent or mortgage repayments. Housing is a human right. But the ‘free market’ system of production for profit has failed to deliver housing at a reasonable price to all who need it.

We need an alternative. We need to rapidly expand the supply of public housing to meet people’s needs. While homeless people and others with acute needs should be given priority, the goal should be that anybody who wants public housing can get it without delay.  Public housing should not be a residual service provided only to those who can prove they are extremely poor. It should be available to all workers, students, pensioners and others who want it.

In the past the Victorian government has built housing for workers (for example, in Broadmeadows and Geelong, to meet the needs of workers in car factories). It should do so again. Today in Venezuela the socialist government is building tens of thousands of modern apartments every year to re-house families from slums. There is no reason why a rich country like Australia can’t build high quality public housing for all who need it.

Oppose privatisation of public housing

But Australian governments,  both Labor and Liberal, have been doing the opposite. They have been privatising public housing. Victoria’s public housing is being privatised by stealth. It is being replaced by what is termed ‘social housing’  but this term is misleading.

Public housing is being handed over to housing associations. These can pick and choose future tenants, with the result that the most disadvantaged people are often excluded. There are currently 34,600 on the waiting list for public housing. Some housing associations take only a third of their tenants from this list.

Furthermore, rents can be increased to levels that are unaffordable to those on low incomes. For people living in public housing, rent is set at 25% of combined household income, which means that it will be reduced if people lose their jobs. This is not the case in ‘social housing’ run by housing associations. Tenants in ‘social housing’ lack long term security of tenure. After 10 years, housing associations can do whatever they like, including selling dwellings or raising rents without any limit.

We need to defend the public housing that exists, and demand that a lot more be built. This will provide useful jobs, unlike the current misdirected spending on prisons, PSOs and the East-West Link. Rent should be limited to 20% of the tenant’s income.

Political alternative needed

We need a political alternative that can truly represent our interests against the destructive greed of big businesses and the politicians who serve them. Socialist Alliance is standing in the upcoming state elections as a step towards such an alternative, and calls for the left to come together around a platform that puts people and the planet before profit. We also campaign year-round for refugee rights, for women’s rights, for the rights of Aboriginal people, against climate change, for democratic and militant unions and around all issues that a radical political alternative needs to stand for.