Contributed by Glen Davis
In Australia on any given night, an estimated one in every 200 people are homeless. Here in Victoria, the figure cited by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2018 was that there 24, 825 on the night of the 2016 Australian census.
Provision of public housing in Australia has always been quite limited. Looking around the world, at one stag 50 percent of housing stock in the United Kingdom was public housing. That is, before Margaret Thatcher sold it off. In France low rent housing accounts for around 46 percent of housing stock, in Denmark 20 percent of housing is public housing.
Photo by Colin Kinniburgh/Grist: Quality and environmentally friendly public housing in Paris
The 2006 Census figure for Australia was only 4.25 percent. It won’t have grown since then. The 1960’s was a bit of a golden era, with much of Victoria public housing stock built then. Most of the tower blocks and walk ups, were built then. This was a period that saw an expansion of public housing.
In the late 1970’s it seemed to plateau though. Things got worse over time. In Victoria we sadly had the Kennett years during the 1990’s in which quite a deal of public housing was sold off. This included many properties purchased under the ‘spot purchase’ program, plus much of the new stock built in the 1980’s. It is no better in other parts of Australia.
There was also the change from public housing, to what’s called ‘social’ or ‘community ‘housing. This has involved charities, not-for-profits, churches etc. becoming the landlords for these properties. Sadly, this has in many ways lead to a form of privatisation where rents are often slightly higher, security of tenure less so.
Rising unaffordability of housing in recent years has made the need for public housing more important than ever. Only a major campaign can make this happen.
Photo by Luis Ascui: Collingwood public housing residents stepped up to defend their homes in 2021
Way back in the 1980’s, I remember being involved in a group called People for Public Housing (PPH). This was an activist group bringing together those working in the field, public tenants, homeless, unionists. It was open to everyone wanting to achieve housing justice.
There were a series of cavalcades to Canberra where demands were presented to Politicians. They were to expand, and improve, the public housing stock. Over 200 people attended these cavalcades. One time, we squatted the abandoned South Vietnamese embassy in the nation’s capital.
There were regular demonstrations across Melbourne. These included outside various forums attended by politicians, and those responsible for the building and provision of housing. There was even an auction outside then Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s bayside mansion in Sandringham.
All this drew attention to the housing situation. Some politicians responded favourably providing resources, asking questions in parliament, and attending/supporting PPH activities. PPH also assisted with the growth of public tenant groupings, local housing action groups, the Squatters Union, all this being part of PPH’s campaigning.
Other activities PPH were involved in included street theatre, with characters weaving their way through the ‘housing market’. Workshops were held informing, educating, people both on housing related topics as well as legal, and media advice for demonstrations. Fund raisers were conducted with performers, artists, giving their time and energy to help PPH raise much needed funds.