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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 



  1. Makes the differences very clear. Did they respond to your submission?

  2. Excellent explanation of the shiftiness of government PR