Last year, the Victorian Government announced the renewal of public housing sites in nine sought-after locations across Melbourne: Brunswick West, North Melbourne, Heidelberg Heights, Clifton Hill, Brighton, Prahran, Hawthorn, Northcote and Ascot Vale.
The renewal of these sites has been largely welcomed, as many of these properties have not been upgraded for many years and had inadequate living conditions.
At the same time, there had been an initial lack of clarity and transparency which has caused distress to residents and advocacy groups alike. While the residents’ right to return to the renewals has always been established, some of the confusion stemmed from questions surrounding the suitability of the dwellings they would be offered, how long construction would take, where they would be housed in the interim or if they would be offered any sort of assistance or support with the move to temporary accommodation and back to the renewal.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has reassured that it would be taking a client-centred approach in regard to the relocation of current residents. Exemptions for the general policy also apply. This means that tenants are assessed for their needs in the current state of living regardless of potential rental arrears, overcrowded apartments or other violations of their rental agreements. DHHS has recruited relocation officers to support residents throughout the process, allowing community sector organisations like Tenants Victoria to work with them for the best possible outcomes for tenants.
Despite these inclusions, several concerns about the projects have been raised by the general public, housing researchers and other advocacy groups. One issue that they have expressed particular concern about is the selling of public land in order to finance this program.
DHHS anticipates a mixed living approach for the sites, combining social and private rental housing with an increase of 10% of public housing. However, there is some question as to whether the housing will stay as public housing or become community housing which may provide less protections for tenants due to conflicting standards.
Tenants Victoria CEO, Mark O’Brien recently facilitated a panel discussion organised by Melbourne University which discussed the details and challenges of the project. We are also actively working with the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS), the Federation of Community Legal Centres and DHHS to ensure tenants’ rights are upheld throughout the process.
A parliamentary inquiry was held on the Public Housing Renewal Project to investigate concerns about selling off public land and the lack of transparency and clarity in the early stages of the program. The outcomes of this inquiry are set to be published in March of this year.
For more information on the Public Housing Renewal Program, visit: www.housing.vic.gov.au/public-housing-renewal-program