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Saturday, 31 October 2015


'I've said over and over again, I am not about to be a part of privatising public housing'

Why can't we find a politician like her in this country?
Privatising public housing – will ( and already is .. ) impacting severely on the people at the bottom of the heap who are too poor basically to be 'economically viable' as renters in market-based housing.

Already the shelters and associated services are unable to cope with the desperate need.

Where will these people turn? Where will they go - if the ALP continues down the path of privatising public housing by handing over the titles of Public Housing to Community Housing Organisations and property developers? There is precious little public housing as it is ...
These people will end up on the streets …

What is WRONG with politics in Australia that the privatisation of such a vitally important asset can be happening with virtually no opposition ?  

The following definition by the peak body of Community Housing Organisations was taken from their submission to the Review into the Human Rights Charter. Community Housing Organisations 'are body corporates entering into and enforcing tenancy agreements in a manner consistent with the ordinary powers of legal persons'
Handing over the titles of formerly publicly owned properties is privatisation, and all the smokescreens of not calling it such, is not fooling anyone...
There are lots of good people working in this industry who share our concerns about where all this is heading …
Let's take a look at how the forces of neoliberalism and the attempt to take over public housing played out in the US in 2011.
Two politicians, Maxine Waters and Barney Frank, energetically took up the issue on behalf of ordinary Americans.
The following article by George Lakoff for the Huffington Post is informative and excellent.
Some extracts from the article
HUD = Housing and Urban Development. Shaun Donovan -former secretary of HUD.

'HUD's attempt to privatise all of America's public housing has been put on hold -- for now. You played an important role. Thousands of you signed the petition and spread the word, so that those at the House Financial Services Committee hearing on May 25 understood what the stakes were.'
'Barney Frank and Maxine Waters asked the right questions, and HUD's answers revealed what was hidden in the language of the bill, namely, that all public housing in America would be subject to privatisation.'
More extracts from the article

'Let us praise Barney Frank and Maxine Waters for calling privatisation "privatisation." '
'This gobbledegook language actually says that the Secretary of HUD can consider private (or privatised) property, no longer legally owned by the government, as if it were "owned by a public housing agency". This is linguistic trickery by which private, or privatised, property can be called "public." Given this trickery, Donovan can claim that all privatised property is still "public," because the PETRA bill allows him to call it that and "consider" it as such. It is basically lying with language.'

Here in Australia, governments are using an umbrella term 'social housing' to refer to both public housing and community housing - and then transfer one to the other.
Friends of Public Housing Victoria is resisting this, because it is a ruse by which the real name public housing soon gets phased out completely- or expunged. The end result is the privatisation by stealth of public housing.
Do we say social schools, social transport and social hospitals? Of course not. The correct terms are public schools, public transport, public hospitals - public housing.
In the US they did the opposite. As pointed out by George Lakoff, they changed the law so that you could call housing that is privately owned 'public housing'! In this way everyone is kept bamboozled … lol
Here is another quote from Maxine Waters who, when talking to embattled public tenants in the US, subjected to 'one strike evictions', vilification and propaganda, displacement by gentrification, 'exiting public housing' programs ( to where? ) and the like.
'Don't give up. Don't let them break your spirit.'
Maybe one day soon a politician / political party will rise up in our country ( before the next election ? ) and start saying the right thing. 'We must not stand by while public housing is being privatised.'

They would certainly get a lot of support nation-wide from the general public as well as from our public housing communities.


Saturday, 24 October 2015


Can you believe that here in Australia we are following Britain down the same path ; implementing a Tory housing policy direction -  ie privatisation - even though it has proven itself to be a social disaster in Britain !?   Please see our post 'Graph of Greed' 
If you study the situation in the UK, you will soon discover MUCH THE SAME SPIN.

Here's the link to an article from the UK GUARDIAN called 
'Affordable Housing does not mean what you think it means.'
The UK version of the Guardian is excellent in its coverage of the housing crisis in the UK. 

Some excerpts..
'Beware of politicians talking about affordable homes. New 'affordable' housing is not actually that affordable.'
'In a move worthy of George Orwell's Ministry of Truth, affordable rent will be higher than before, set at up to 80% of the local market rent. Across whole swathes of southern England affordable rented properties will simply not be affordable to people on low incomes.'

'Council housing in Westminster, London - under newer 'affordable rents', tenants would need an income of up to £109,000 a year for flats here to be affordable.'
As in the UK, when we refer to paradigm-changing Australian housing policy directions ( which are not open to debate )  'affordable housing' has already been defined as 'up to 80% of market rents'...

In practice, community housing operators often charge 75% of market rents which means they can claim GST exemptions. They also rely heavily on tax-payer funded Commonwealth Rent Assistance ( CRA ) which goes directly to them, and is used as an ongoing operating subsidy. Otherwise people on low incomes, especially without access to CRA - could not afford to live in 'affordable housing'. 

This also begs the question, ' How affordable is 'affordable housing' to our society, since it relies on so much corporate welfare to sustain it ? '

By contrast the operation of Public Housing requires no Commonwealth Rent Assistance because the rents, set at 25% of income, are already genuinely affordable. We need to hang on to the Public Housing system, and work to improve it - not just 'give it away' as the ALP is considering doing !!


So- 'Affordable housing' -when used in a housing context-  is not used in the way that we would use the term. ( as a layperson )

With this spin in mind, we need to discuss public housing and non-government housing rather than using an elastic term like 'affordable housing'.

Affordable Housing operators have formed international alliances in Canada, UK and the US
All prosperous countries with epidemics of homelessness.
How well has 'affordable housing' worked in these countries??

Someone has to ask these hard questions.
But - there is no real media analysis or discussion here in Australia. 


Another report, also from the UK, is called

'The Affordable Housing Con' by London Tenants Federation. 
It begins with an extract from Lewis Carroll and a quote from a senior lecturer in urban studies.

When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass


'Social scientists take considerable care in defining their concepts in order to make them more precise.

By contrast, the term ‘affordable housing’ is used in such a wide variety of ways by those people in positions of power in relation to housing provision, such as politicians, property developers and planners, that it means just what they want it to mean – just like Humpty Dumpty.'

Dr. Paul Watt, Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies, Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies Birkbeck, University of London



Friday, 23 October 2015



Here is another response from Friends of Public Housing Victoria to the extremely disturbing report in The Age - (  'Sweeping Changes presented on Public Housing in Victoria'  19.10.15. )

I have copied and pasted The Age article below, in full, in case you missed it. It also includes a link which highlights the previous Liberal Coalition government's plan to hand over 12,000 Public Housing properties to Community Housing Organisations.

This Letter to the Editor was written by Gordon O'Reilly. He is a former insider from the management team within the Office of Housing who managed financial and other evaluations of the full range of public and so-called social housing options.

We now know that the Victorian ALP State government is 'considering' transferring the management of PUBLIC HOUSING with the view to handing over the TITLES. 

While nothing definite has been said, the Prahan Masterplan affecting four estates  indicates that the present Labor govt is continuing in the same direction of the former ousted Coalition Liberal Government - favouring and facilitating the agenda of property developers and big business - while abandoning any genuine commitment to public housing which is so desperately needed.


We urge more people and more organisations to join us in opposition to this long term covert trend of undermining and destroying public housing by selling it off, and giving it away to private interests. 



Letter to the Age 

Responding to Age News 19.10.15

I have managed the financial assessment of over 100 public housing projects.
In summary: Buildings age. Needs evolve. And needs are growing . .

What's now needed: building maintenance, and a renewed commitment to public housing. After decades of responsible, successful ownership of public housing, it seems that the government is more interested in disposing of real estate, than maintaining it.

This is despite the growing number of people below the poverty line and the growing number of homeless.

Evidently the modern Labor Party is quite happy to further abandon its traditional focus - helping those most in need.

Just like the party for the big end of town, the Andrews Labor government is much more interested in ditching normal government maintenance responsibilities, and turning over yet another big chunk of the public service/assets to organisations driven by hard efficiency, to run at a profit.

What's happening here to government compassion? Displaced by the almighty dollar.

What's the end result of the proposed phasing out of public housing? An increase in the number of people who are homeless.

As Derryn Hinch famously used to say - Shame!


Sweeping changes presented on public housing in Victoria  

October 18, 2015

Benjamin Preiss

State Political Reporter for The Age

Public housing could be set for sweeping reforms if the Victorian Housing Department proceeds with proposals to hand over homes to community operators and sell "outdated" properties.

A department presentation to community housing groups raises the possibility of transferring public housing titles to community housing operators if they can raise standards for residents.

It also suggests the potential acceleration of a "sales program of outdated properties" that are no longer needed so that "capital reinvestment" can be increased.

Housing Minister Martin Foley said the government was intent on growing public housing and had no "sell-off agenda".

"This government is investing more in growing social housing by using our assets and opportunities in a better way," he said.

The presentation foreshadows public housing estate redevelopments and identifying estates most in need of upgrades.

The document said a "transfer management program" was being considered and could lead to property title transfers after three to five years if performance standards were met.
Those standards may include improving tenant satisfaction and exceeding maintenance benchmarks.

However, the document makes no mention of how many transfers may take place.
"Our clear position is that we are not looking at title transfer unless we can deliver a benefit to tenants and increase social housing units," Mr Foley said.

Community Housing Federation executive officer Lesley Dredge said transfers of public housing stock to community operators were happening around the country.

She said management transfers would allow community housing groups to improve property maintenance and community development.

But Ms Dredge added that title transfers would give social housing tenants more stability and allow community housing groups to borrow money and invest in new supply.

"Some have described title transfer as privatisation but this is misleading," Ms Dredge said. "In fact we are more rigorously regulated than state-managed public housing."

The presentation shows plans to expand the number of social housing dwellings, reduce "concentrations of disadvantage" and provide more housing options to people with disabilities.

Opposition housing spokesman Tim Bull urged the government to ensure any transfers to the community sector did not result in the most vulnerable people in the community losing priority. He said tenants' rent should not increase if the transfer plan proceeded.

Last year the previous Coalition government unveiled plans to transfer 12,000 public housing units to the community housing sector.

Victorian Public Tenants Association executive director Mark Feenane​ said he "embraced" the department's process.

"We need more people thinking about the future of public housing," he said. "In looking at ways to grow public housing we need to be careful about shooting down ideas too quickly, we want careful consideration of options, not grandstanding."

University of NSW housing policy researcher Professor Hal Pawson described the presentation as "wide-ranging".

"It is some form of strategy which you don't get very often in this field," he said.
Professor Pawson said both management and title transfers would allow residents to claim federal rent assistance as tenants of community housing providers.

Melbourne Greens MP Ellen Sandell said there was a housing crisis in Victoria. The public housing waiting list passed 34,000 in June this year.

"Having a safe place to live is a fundamental human right," Ms Sandell said.
She said the government should be investing more money in public housing properties and making "much needed improvements" to existing stock.

Council to Homeless Persons chief executive Jenny Smith said transferring management of social housing to community service providers had been linked to improved services, better efficiency and "community empowerment". 

"The potential reforms to social housing should be one of the many requirements of a much-needed state-wide affordable housing strategy."  

Monday, 19 October 2015


IT'S OFFICIAL. In spite of all their denials, Victorian State Labor government is 'considering' handing over Public Housing to Community Housing Organisations.    
Here is my letter to The Age -  Jeremy Dixon

Lesley Dredge, Executive Officer of the Community Housing Federation doesn't think it's privatisation when public housing properties are handed over to private "community" operators such as she represents. ( News 19 Oct ) Well, it will do until privatisation comes along. If your local state high school was handed over to, say, Geelong Grammar then that would surely be privatisation, and the cases are parallel.

The Community Housing interests have done a brilliant job of making government workers and politicians of most persuasions see Community Housing's seizure of public assets as inevitable. Whatever their public relations people are paid- it is not enough.

But still it is privatisation we are talking about and no amount of spin can disguise it.
The result will be the disaster we have come to expect from privatisation.

Jeremy Dixon
Nth Carlton Public Housing flats

Sunday, 18 October 2015



Fairer Safer Housing in Victoria.

In June this year the Victorian government put out a consultation paper called 'Fairer Safer Housing in Victoria' as part of a Review of the Residential Tenancy Act.
Jeremy Dixon and I worked on a submission together.
Jeremy is my friend, neighbour and fellow public tenant.
He is working hard to get a new political party off the ground- PIBCI - Public Interests before Corportate Interests. He is also the convenor of Defend and Extend Public Housing. This post is based on what we wrote to the Victorian government.



Fairer Safer Housing in Victoria.

Some comments from the perspective of public housing tenants.

The Definitions within the document.

There is a serious problem regarding the definitions used in the consultation paper.

Firstly it states that 'social housing collectively refers to public housing and community housing.' This definition means that 'social housing' is an umbrella term which applies to both community and public housing.
To call both community and public housing 'social housing' is a confusing and obfuscating misuse of language since they are two very different housing models.

Furthermore social housing is also used as a synonym for community housing, as distinct from public housing. The definitions keep shifting making meaningful and sensible debate difficult.

Some of the distinctions between public and community housing. ( Why they shouldn't be lumped in together.)

-Only public housing is both government owned and government managed. Public housing provides security of tenure and rebated flexible rents which are all too often missing in community housing. Public housing does not require tenants to apply for Commonwealth Rent Assistance in order for the rents to be affordable.

Community housing, also sometimes called 'affordable housing' charges tenants up to 80% of market rents and requires ongoing huge amounts of taxpayer funded Commonwealth Rent Assistance in order for it to be 'affordable' for its tenants on low incomes. This goes directly to the Community Housing Organisation and serves as an operating subsidy. In practice, community housing often charge 75% of market rents which qualifies them for exemptions from GST.

-Public tenants are protected from unfair 'no cause' eviction notices. This is often not the case for community housing tenants and those in the private rental market. Unlike the situation with public housing, many community housing tenants are on fixed term contracts.

- Public housing provides housing to people on low incomes. 'Community housing' caters for people on low to moderate incomes. The report itself shows that the demographics of public and community housing are different which makes the logic of considering them as a bloc and conflating them for statistical purposes difficult to see.

Definition of Community Housing Organisations

The definition of 'community housing' in the government document is also problematic. It states that 'community housing is fully or partially funded by government to provide short-term crisis or transitional housing to people experiencing homelessness, as well as longer-term housing'.

We think this is an inadequate definition of 'community housing'. The business activities of community housing organisations go well beyond transitional housing for homeless people. Community housing organisations now own and/or manage over 18,000 properties in Victoria, including formerly publicly owned properties. Eight large community housing organisations ( housing associations ) are also major property developers.
Calling us by our right name.

Public tenants do not refer to themselves as 'social housing' tenants. To attempt to impose a change of name on us, indicates a complete lack of cultural sensitivity to the identity and voices of public tenants and our public housing communities.

It also disempowers public tenants by implying that 'public', 'community' and 'social' housing are all the same thing. This denies us necessary acurate information  regarding major paradigm shifts in housing policy that will impact on ourselves and our families. 

Big Picture Agenda? 
The privatisation - by stealth- of public housing
To label both public and community housing 'social housing' conceals the fundamental differences between public and community housing. It makes it very easy to transfer public housing to private interests ( and difficult to trace in government documents ).

What will be the impact on our society as a whole, if we keep on losing public housing properties through stock transfers, bulldozing and private selloffs?  Inadequate public housing results in increased homelessness. It is the collective human right of public tenants to partake in public life and we want to be part of this debate. 
Three Strikes Eviction Policies

We reject the notion that public tenants - and for that matter community housing tenants - need additional laws and threats such as a Three Strikes Eviction policy over and above the Residential Tenancy Act, which is already weighted on the side of the landlords' interests against the tenants. Why should people on low incomes be denied the same housing security enjoyed by other members of society?

Human Rights

Public tenants have the protection of the Human Rights Charter.

There was recently a review of the Human Rights Charter. The peak body for Community Housing Organisations -CHFV- disputed the applicability of the HRC- stating that it was not the original intention of the HRC that it apply to Community Housing Organisations. It went on to argue how its terms –ie being a public authority – did not apply to them.

As your report states, both public and community housing tenants are among the 'most vulnerable and disadvantaged' members of our society. It is essential that they have the full protection of the Human Rights Charter.

All changes in the context of housing should be made clear to public tenants and prospective tenants of community housing, especially in light of any proposed transfers of stock, management and tenancies. Public tenants need to be fully informed.

If your department is serious about establishing a fairer safer housing system for all Victorians, then we believe that it should acknowledge and rectify the ongoing disregard of the rights of public tenants by addressing these issues.

Finally the notion that the market can satisfy all housing needs is an ideological one and unsupported by evidence. 

The growth of community housing should not be at the expense of public housing. 
The government should accept and embrace the fact that the provision of a strong and viable public housing sector is a beneficial, necessary and permanent part of housing policy.
Rather than divest itself of this asset via stock transfers, we urge the Andrews Labor government to keep public housing in public hands, work with tenants to improve its delivery and management, and invest in more public housing to meet the growing demand.

Jeremy Dixon - Defend and Extend Public Housing
Fiona Ross - Friends of Public Housing Victoria 


Friday, 9 October 2015


A few years ago, as part of a Community Development project, I did a series of stories celebrating our elders on the Public Housing estate where I live.

This was a project undertaken as part of celebrating Senior Citizens Festival which falls in October of each year. Since this time of year is with us again, I thought I would include some stories here.

The truth is, our communities are overwhelmingly very functional, socially inclusive, richly multicultural and diverse. 

Public housing, by its nature, epitomises community and we have strong community values. As a refugee neighbour from Sudan described it,  'Two hands can clap, but it takes a community to make a round of applause.'

These sound values, so often encountered in public housing, should be acknowledged, recognised and celebrated. Instead our communities are being constantly and unfairly denigrated, but that's another story..

Please meet my beautiful neighbours  ...

This is Sen Yao Lau. She is ninety four years old.

In Chinese her name means 'virtuous'. She is one of three children. Sen Yao Lau comes from the Qantong province in China.

Her father was a farmer. He was a very kind man. Everybody in his village would agree. He always tried to help those in trouble. If he was on his way to Yum Cha and he met a beggar, he would give his money to the beggar, turn around and come back home again.

Sen Yao remembers as a child walking a long way to school. In those days in China, women were illiterate and most had no education whatsoever. Sen Yao was very lucky. She had six years of schooling. She learnt calligraphy. At home her mother also taught her how to knit. The family had a small garden and grew all their own vegetables.

She was eighteen years old when she married in China. It was an arranged marriage. Sen Yau did not see her husband until their wedding day. Luckily he was a good husband; a gentle person. He was a carpenter. Together they had six children.

Of course they have all grown up now. Two of her adult children have settled in America, two live in Australia and two are still in China. Sen Yau has thirteen grandchildren.

Sen Yau and her husband were in their sixties, when their children helped them to emigrate to Australia. They lived in a high rise Public Housing flat in Fitzroy, and then moved onto the Princes Hill Estate. Sen Yao has lived on this estate for eighteen years. She likes living here very much. Sadly she lost her husband seven years ago.

In her flat she has a little Buddhist shrine and every morning she lights incense and she prays. Every day she likes to get some exercise. She weeds her little garden. She walks a lot and catches the tram into the city. Sometimes she visits her best friend who is 82 and also from China. They might go to Yum Cha together or shop at the Victoria Market.

Sen Yau understands very little English and gestures a lot to make herself understood. She is very kind and loving, and always seems to be smiling. When I visited her, she gave me flowers and herbs from her garden and lollies from her pocket.

Sen Yau cooks Chinese food; mainly vegetables and rice. She only eats meat occasionally. Her son brings her Chinese videos to watch on the television. She understands the weather report and every evening without fail, she checks what the weather is going to be like the following day.

She misses her grandchildren in China and the USA. She still enjoys knitting and makes hats, jumpers and scarves for her family and friends. Before I left, she made me an Origami paper crane to take home with me.