You might be very surprised to learn this.It is not widely known -and yet it ought to be ..
It is a matter of public interest.
Recently there was a review into the Victorian Human Rights Charter.
Community Housing Federation of Victoria ( CHFV ) - the peak body for Community Housing Organisations has put in a submission in which they dispute whether the Human Rights Charter should apply to them.
CHFV claims that it was not the original intention of the Human Rights Charter, at the time of its introduction, that it apply to Community Housing Organisations. The peak body goes on to argue why the term 'public authority' should not apply to them.
Only governments and public authorities are legally bound to comply with the Human Rights Charter. Therefore this is an extremely disturbing position taken by the peak body of Community Housing which owns and /or manages over 18,000 properties in Victoria.
It is a legal argument of great significance and serious ramifications. After all we are talking here about people's right to housing.
If Community Housing Organisations are not deemed to be Public Authorities then they would be exempt from the need to comply with the Human Rights Charter when dealing with their tenants.
Depending on the outcome of the review, many vulnerable people who are presently living in Community Housing could lose the essential protection of the Charter.
In its submission to the Review, Legal Aid Victoria also discusses this issue and stresses the importance of the Human Rights Charter in protecting and enforcing the rights of disadvantaged people against powerful agencies. It gives an example where potential breaches of the Charter were brought to the attention of a Community Housing Provider which claimed that it did not consider itself to be a 'public authority' and therefore the Human Rights Charter did not apply to them.
Interestingly, one of the purposes of the Human Rights Charter Review is to decide on this very issue ie. 'clarifying the provisions regarding public authorities, including the identification of public authorities and the content of their human rights obligations.'
With so much at stake riding on this decision we can only hope that this 'independent review' is not about to weaken the Charter or its application…
In light of any future proposed mass transfers of thousands of public housing stock to 'community housing' businesses – the outcome of this review of the Human Rights Charter is also of great interest to public tenants.
In Victoria the largest group of people making up our public tenant communities have some form of disability- physical or mental. The government knows full well the documented level of genuine disadvantage of people living in public housing.
The government has a Duty of Care to its tenants and part of that duty is to ensure their ongoing protection under the Charter.
What is made abundantly clear in CHFV's submission is the tension experienced between their business interests on the one hand and their social obligations under the Charter on the other.
Friends of Public Housing Victoria has maintained all along that market based 'social' or 'community housing' is not the answer to providing housing for low income people and will not solve, but rather exacerbate the housing crisis. This is evidenced in countries where 'social housing' has been implemented and has failed, resulting in gross profiteering and an epidemic of homelessness.
Regardless of whether Community Housing Providers and Associations qualify as Public Authorities -and many would argue that they definitely do - they should nevertheless have voluntarily embraced their legal obligations under the Charter anyway, in line with progressive global trends.
Community Housing Organisations want to take over public housing properties and/or the tenancies of many people with high and complex needs – and at the same time they argue that they should be exempt from any legal obligation to comply with the Human Rights Charter by challenging their definition as a public authority …??
For heaven's sake, things just keep going from bad to worse in this country when it comes to the housing rights of people at the lowest end of the economic scale.
The outcome of this review will be tabled on 1st October 2015.
We will keep you posted.
In this blog we try to cover housing issues from the perspective of public tenants and in support of public housing. Many of these issues are not being covered in the mainstream media.
See Heading 'What other people have said'
Submission by Community Housing Federation Victoria= submission no. 45 ( p.4-5 )
Submission by Victorian Legal Aid
= submission no. 93 ( p11.)