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Sunday, 10 January 2016


Late last year a series of presentations were held for public tenants on the subject of Conflict Resolution, called THIS IS OUR HOME.

A group of members of Friends of Public Housing attended one of the sessions.

The purpose of these functions was to give examples of common conflicts neighbours experience which were then addressed in turn by a panel of people representing Office of Housing, local council, the police, Legal Aid and the Neighbourhood Justice Centre. This was a great initiative and we were keen to participate.

Dealing with conflict is one of life's challenges. Obviously conflict affects everybody -not only public tenants. It is important to get it right when it comes to conflict, addressing problems early, rather than letting situations fester, and coming up with solutions which are fair and hopefully even result in strengthening communities.

Conflict can arise in public housing because people often live cheek by jowl and furthermore Public Housing houses many people with high and complex needs who are often overlooked by the private sector and 'community housing' businesses. Sometimes this can have ramifications as you will see in the example given below.

By the same token we should not exaggerate the problem of conflict within public housing communities, which are overwhelmingly harmonious and of course law-abiding. People who believe otherwise are being taken in by a biased tabloid-style media.

I think the government has sometimes vacillated by being too neglectful and dismissive of conflicts that come to their attention, or else far too punitive by introducing a three strikes eviction policy which is probably unlawful under the Human Rights Charter.

Before the meeting started, we chatted with a member of the panel and told her of our intention to raise the matter of the 3 Strikes Eviction Policy. We were told that this was not the right forum to bring up the three strikes eviction policy. Why not?

It is always the right time and place to bring up matters of concern to public tenants and especially to address issues of social injustice. We all know that if we don't open our mouths when the opportunity arises the right forum never materialises anyway- and another opportunity is lost. We raised the subject and afterwards the same person told us that she was glad that Friends of Public Housing attended because our contribution had been important.

One benefit of being a tenant of the government is that we can have a say in developing and shaping policy – that's the idea anyway. Since the forum addressed a topic relevant to public tenants it was very well attended with translators present. This is another argument why we are much better off staying with the public system rather than becoming 'community housing' tenants.

Afterwards we chatted to our fellow public tenants. They shared with us their worries and frustrations. I've always found public tenants to be lovely people – friendly and genuine without pretensions or guile. It is a disgrace how public tenants are being constantly vilified in the media.

One lady held my hand the whole time she was telling me her story. She was troubled. Her previous neighbour had been evicted and although on the one hand she was relieved that he was no longer living on the premises because his behaviour had been disruptive and noisy, she also said that he was 'more mad than bad'. It sounded as though his behaviour – roaming alone at night and shouting - had been driven by his delusional state. He had no support structures and no family that she knew of. She was a kind person and was troubled that her complaints had contributed to him becoming homeless.

Evictions do not include plans to help you find somewhere to live. The locks are changed and you are given two pamphlets which tell you about homelessness services available and that's it. Apart from perhaps making arrangements to collect your things, further discussion with the Office of Housing will not be entered into.

If people are being made homeless because they are exhibiting symptoms of their illness which is out of their control, then they are being discriminated against. At the same time their neighbours need peace and quiet and sleep. How to address these human problems?

One thing that would immediately alleviate the pressure on the public housing system would be for the government to stop allowing Community Housing businesses who own the titles to cherry-pick their tenants. They can refuse to house 'unsuitable' tenants without defining what this means. They are not required to take tenants from Segment 1 of the public housing waiting list ie those in greatest need. In any case only 'up to 50%' need to be taken from the public housing waiting list anyway. This was later amended to 'eligible to be on the waiting list' and Community Housing Organisations who own the properties are now able to use their own resources to fill these vacancies, bypassing the waiting list altogether. 

Considering that they have been given the titles of desperately needed public housing this is unacceptable.

If you ignore the hype from those with vested interests in the stock transfers, and just look at the facts it is not hard to see that giving away the titles of public housing is not in the public interest at all and will lead to rising poverty, food insecurity, gentrification and increasing homelessness.

We are already seeing this…

But the Andrews Labor government in Victoria is planning to hand over even more titles
which will only make matters worse and contribute to further inequity.

Of course, it falls on the Public Housing system to continue to try and take up the slack of housing people according to need and without discrimination - and with precious little public housing available. If we end up with pockets of ghettos and dysfunction in public housing, people should realise that government policies are creating this situation.

Public Housing is being given away with very loose 'guidelines' attached to these gifts - guidelines which seem more like loop-holes for big business and developers

These housing policies amount to social engineering. 

Then the media points the finger at the dysfunctional and dreadful public tenants, further dividing our society, and justifying hating on a group of people. It is all very hypocritical.

It is a testament to our strong, functional communities that in spite of these assaults, public housing is still doing so well.


Moira Rayner- Barrister and Human Rights expert on the Three Strikes Eviction policy says it is 'probably unlawful under the Charter because mandatory rules are inherently arbitrary.'

'Allocation, eligibility and rent setting in the Australian community housing sector' p22,24,41


1 comment:

  1. I have been told that in Europe that 60 percent of housing is public housing! I think if this was the case in Australia, that it would improve the quality of experience for people living in public housing as there would be more of a cross section of society in any one housing complex, and variety of classes cultures and ages is more healthy, permaculture as opposed to the monoculture situation like where I live in public housing in Brisbane which is for "seniour housing" which although quiet is quite depressing, rather like living in an old folks home. With more varieties of people comes a healthier emotional climate which could definitely be a way of reducing conflict in public housing. We need more public housing not less!