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Friday, 26 February 2016


Here is a fine article by Jenny Smith, CEO of the Council to Homeless Persons. The second largest group of people that live in public housing are elderly pensioners. FOPHV thanks Jenny Smith for this article that challenges the unfair stigmatization of public tenants- and defends their right to remain safely housed. It is shameful to push people out of their homes to satisfy the profit-making interests of corporations. 

This article was published by Huffington Post Australia.

Public Housing Residents Are Not 'Living The High Life'   24.2.16

Jenny Smith, CEO of the Council to Homeless Persons

News headlines often need a little unpacking, including one this week from Channel 7: 
 "Housing commission residents living with million-dollar views -- some public housing tenants are living the high life for little more than $100 a week, thanks to taxpayers". 

The story unfolds with some sharp-suited developers rubbing their hands in glee at how much money they could make if they had the opportunity to develop prime, inner-city land that houses many thousands of people on low incomes.

I wonder if, on viewing the video, many in the audience would really wish to turf great-grandmother Pat onto the street to let the speculators and investors have their free-for-all. Perhaps only the most fervent could be so venal.

And yet, this story invites us to consider a question that is at the heart of much of the current debate on negative gearing, and which has long dogged the conversation on government policy relating to housing affordability.

Is housing a critical platform for peoples lives? Is it as fundamental -- or more so -- to our wellbeing as education and health; or is housing simply a platform for wealth creation; for speculators to gamble on its future value, and for those seeking to minimise their tax liabilities to have a means to keep more in their pocket and put less in the common pool?

In considering this question it's worthwhile to consider what might be the alternatives for Pat, were she not to have the opportunity of her apartment in the high-rise estate. Like many other women who have raised their families and joined the ranks of the aged poor, she could live in private rental, where she would inevitably pay more than 50 percent of her income in rent.

She would live at the whim of a landlord, who could evict her, for no stated reason, if she complained about repairs not done, or rent hikes. She would risk homelessness if rents increased beyond what she could afford, or she could risk her health by not eating properly or not filling her prescriptions so she could make those payments. 

She might choose to move further out, to somewhere slightly cheaper, albeit still costing more than 30 percent of her income, and suffer isolation as she loses her connection to local family and friends, familiar shops and services.

This -- or a bed in a rooming house, couch surfing or life on the street -- is the reality for real people if we fail to treat housing as a fundamental need and develop a coherent plan to address the affordability crisis.

However, housing markets weren't always so tight. In times gone past, Pat would have afforded a modest rental in the very location she now lives in public housing.

Inner-city and port-side areas like Fitzroy and Williamstown were not always home to Melbourne's high flyers, but rather Melbourne's slums following the Great Depression.

The Fitzroy estates we see today were developed on slum reclamation land, purchased cheaply to swiftly house low-paid workers who were unable to secure a safe home for themselves and their families.

The Williamstown estates tell a similar story. After the Second World War, family homelessness skyrocketed, and dangerous makeshift shanties and tents popped up everywhere. The Housing Commission of Victoria developed the Champion Road and West Newport estates in response.

These estates represented a new approach to housing provision and addressed criticism of the poor quality of earlier estates. They signalled change.

Now, gentrification has re-ignited interest in these areas. Decades of speculative investment fuelled by generous tax breaks have created suburbs in which the 'Pats' can't compete.

It is time again for the government to be visionary about housing policy. To create affordable housing options for the 120,000 Victorian households living in rental stress; and the over 22,000 who are homeless on any given night.

And it's time for the speculators to leave Pat, and others, safely housed by the visionaries of the past.


  1. This is a fantastic article stating the reality of many aged pensioners like myself. I have been living in private lodging accommodation and find that I have virtually no legal rights if I am living with an owner-occupier. In my search for accommodation on house-share sites, I now see many, and an increasing number, of ads for 'room-share' not house share. People are paying $100 and more to share a room with one or more persons ie to have a bed in a shared room. I strongly condemn the government's push to privatise public housing. I haven't heard any political party clearly speak out against the sell-off and privatisation of public housing. We need more public housing!! -Hans Foik

  2. This is so well said. It explains exactly whats happening due to our housing affordability problem. I see many in our community struggling to pay high rents when they are on low incomes. Prices always rising but salarys aren't. Employment growing and people applying for many jobs and being unsuccessful being that so many out of work applying for the same position. Gentrification is pushing out public tenants and private tenants, as properties continue to be sold by the Government to developers instead of building more units and homes on the land. Government states that they are putting the money from the sales of these properties into housing but its usually a long way from the cbd and tenants loose their support services. Its time for the Government to build more public housing and take a good hard look at how many people in our city are homeless or are under threat of becoming homeless. tens of thousands of people on waiting lists for public housing. Not enough emergency housing. Something needs to be done to solve this problem which is escalating. Thanks Fiona for bringing this article to light.

  3. I received an email from with a request to sign a petition for a woman named Louise Good living in Thornbury who has been threatened with eviction by CEHL housing group,apparently in retaliaation for defending her human rights and protecting others. Louise"s rent was paid up.
    Louise is much loved by the community and interacts and helps where she can. Louise is 60 years old and grew up in an orphanage after being taken away from her much loved family and suffers PTSD.
    It seems these housing groups have too much power over people. This seems a ridiculous human rights abuse to be able to make an elderly woman homeless because she cares about others.

    apparently in retaliation for defending her human rights and protecting others.

  4. The government have NO interest in public housing period. Just in a quick cash grab and privatization. Interesting times ahead.