Victoria's public housing under threat
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by Jim H.
After many years of underfunding, neglect and the loss of a significant revenue stream after fairly extensive selling of housing stock to the private market, Victoria’s Ministry of Housing is so far in debt that it is in financial crisis.
Rather than being an alternative form of housing for all Victorians (something demanded by those who had fought for this right before us), public housing has been turned into a vehicle used to bunch together and isolate many of the least fortunate into inadequate housing. For years the system has been deliberately underfunded, maintenance has been neglected, and public housing stigmatised as an option that most people should not want.
Around this, a costly and dysfunctional state apparatus has been created. Those who work in it mean well. They work hard to do the best under the circumstances. But the “system” is not designed to work in the interests of those it is purported to serve.
Application of neo-liberalism
The application of a neoliberal agenda that took swing in Victoria with the Kennett government and has never really ended, led to the selling of a large chunk of housing stock to the private market. It was enough to significantly dent the rent income stream.
In recent years, after so long a period of maintenance neglect, there was no option but to suddenly devote many millions of dollars to shore up dilapidated housing estates. Now there will be no more money for maintenance on the required scale, and officially, some 10,000 dwellings will soon be marked as uninhabitable.
This state of affairs should never have come about. It could have been avoided with some proper planning. Of course, this entails a very different view of public housing to that of those who are running it. Lip service is given to public housing, but the very nature in which it has been provided has ensured that it would be undermined.
Over the last few years the Ministry of housing has found itself in the red to the tune of $50 million a year. This is expected to climb up to $100 million soon, if the situation continues as at present.
In their own internal discussions, those running the system have already been talking about selling off a large chunk of the remaining housing stock. Knowing that the large estates may be more difficult so sell in the present circumstances, the preferred option is to place them under the management of religious or private business based agencies. This is something akin to the handing out of employment services that occurred with Centrelink. Millions of dollars of Victorian tax money will be handed over to private providers, who will undoubtedly be provided with a profit guarantee as usual.
Aside from direct handouts, there is discussion about imposing yearly means testing. Only those who have not got a job will be allowed into and stay in public housing. Once you have a job, you will have to leave. People on NewStart are seen as only meriting temporary housing.
If sole parents are denied their pension after a certain period of time and compelled to transfer over to New Start (as has been mentioned federally), this vulnerable section of the population will be particularly hard hit.
The total effect will be that a large number of Victorians who depend on public housing will be denied this right. Add to this an already declared consideration to raise rents substantially.
Thousands of public service workers would face the loss of their jobs with the shrinking of the department and other linked services. This is wrong. Not only would this add to the unemployment statistics, it would deny the assistance that they already provide to many in need.
It is very important to defend public housing against cuts and demand that much more be invested into providing decent and affordable social housing for many more Victorians.
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