Housing for the Aged Action Group
In English. Raise the Roof alternates in the Wednesday 6 - 6.30 pm timeslot with Small Talk (first wednesday of the month), Raising Our Voices (second Wednesday of the month), The Boldness (third) and HAAG (fourth). If there is a fifth Wednesday in a month then The Boldness is presented.
The housing situation for people on low incomes has become much worse over the last 20 years. Public housing expenditure by successive Commonwealth Governments has been reduced every year since 1986, while the need for affordable and secure rental housing has significantly grown. There are currently 35,000 people on the waiting list for public housing in Victoria, and at least twice as many would access it if it were available. The truth is that many people do not even apply because they are told that the waiting time is “indefinite”.
For many people aged in their 70s and 80s this means having to survive in private rental housing, paying, on average, 49% of their income in rent.
The latest Rental Report published by the Office of Housing states that the Melbourne metropolitan region has less than 1% of affordable properties (where the tenant pays less than 30% of their income in rent).
Private rental housing is also unsuitable for older people because a landlord can evict a tenant with only 60 days notice, causing massive upheaval in a person’s life, often with dire health consequences. In today’s current tight rental market landlords are not even considering applications from older people as they are often applying alone, on pensions, and therefore unable to compete with younger working singles and couples. Also, because our state has no minimum housing standards for private rental accommodation, a landlord can rent out a draughty, damp hovel with no heating or insulation, which often causes deleterious health problems for the older tenant.
Older people who do finally get into public housing - usually through the priority list due to ill health or disability - say that their lives have changed dramatically for the better. This is because public housing is affordable, has long term security of tenure, is well designed and usually well located near services and shops.
Why not public housing?
If public housing is so good why don’t governments increase funding for it? HAAG believes the primary reason is that governments don’t believe safe, secure and affordable housing is a right for all citizens, and instead are much more interested in protecting housing’s role as an investment vehicle for the wealthy.
Consider this: Government expenditure on public housing is currently about $900 million a year (and falling) while there is $17 billion available annually in tax breaks and subsidies, mainly for housing investors.
This reduction in public housing expenditure has provided the excuse for governments to throw their hands up and say it’s all too hard. So their solution to all the problems is to invite the private sector to run the system!
This privatisation of public housing is being gradually introduced over recent years through the funding of Housing Association companies. These companies are desperately seeking the transfer of public housing assets across to their portfolios. We fear they intend to offer housing to ‘nicer’ people on higher incomes and raise rents, inevitably destroying any sense of public accountability for how such companies are run.
On other estates public housing is being demolished so that wealthy investors gain access to scarce inner city land.
For example, on Rathdowne Street in Carlton the State Government is currently reducing the public housing on one site by 200 bedrooms while giving a developer enough land to build 550 private apartments. We will be keenly interested to know who the shareholders are of the winning bidder. It could be quite revealing.
Resistance to this kind of change has been almost non-existent over the past 10 years. This has been due to the dismantling of tenant advocacy in Victoria. The Bracks Government has refused to provide any funding for Shelter Victoria. Victoria is the only State or Territory Government in Australia not funding a state peak body for tenants and housing advocates. Victoria also once had a network of regional housing councils that had a specific brief: to advance the cause of tenants on low incomes.
The same levels of funding are still there, however they are regrettably directed to compliant welfare and legal services many of which act as mere government contractors, very far from being independent associations. Few have no structures of accountability to tenants.
HAAG continues to campaign against the sale of public housing land in Carlton. If you would like to support our action, or if you are an older person who needs assistance with housing, please contact Housing for the Aged Action Group on 9654 7389. We are open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and are based in Ross House, 247-251 Flinders Lane, Melbourne.