News State Victoria Sell-off of Melbourne public housing ‘not justified’, parliamentary inquiry finds

Sell-off of Melbourne public housing ‘not justified’, parliamentary inquiry finds

public housing renewal program melbourne victoria
The run-down Brunswick West estate is pictured. Photo: Department of Health and Human Services Building Authority
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The sell-off of nine run-down Melbourne public housing estates for developers to build a mix of new public and private units has not been justified, a parliamentary inquiry has found.

The estates – at North Melbourne, Ascot Vale, Prahran, Hawthorn, Brunswick West, Brighton, Clifton Hill, Heidelberg West and Northcote – would be sold off and redeveloped with at least 10 per cent more public units under Labor’s Public Housing Renewal Program.

A parliamentary committee, chaired by Liberal MLC Margaret Fitzherbert, heard the increase was “inadequate” and the sell-off of public land had not been justified.

“Any sale of public housing land, particularly in prime locations in inner-suburban Melbourne, should be properly justified and provide a large benefit to public housing tenants and the state. It is not clear that this is the case,” the report, released on Tuesday, said.

The project would renew the ageing housing estates, the report said, but would do very little to fill the growing shortfall in social housing stock.

An extra 1500 people have registered for Victorian public housing in the first three months of 2018.

In March, there were 57,877 adults and 24,622 children seeking public housing through 36,742 applications.

public housing renewal program victoria melbourne
An artist’s impression of the Brunswick West estate after the renewal program. Photo: Department of Health and Human Services Building Authority

The committee called for more transparency surrounding the project.

“Unless the program becomes far more transparent than it has been to date, it will be difficult for anyone outside of government to assess whether it is successful in achieving its objectives,” Ms Fitzherbert wrote in the foreword.

It made 28 recommendations, focusing on fixing “flawed and confusing” community consultation, advice to tenants, reporting of outcomes and design plans.

Paperwork given to tenants led to confusion over whether they would be guaranteed the right to return to their original estate, after being moved out during development.

“It also appears that while the number of public housing dwellings will rise in these developments by at least 10 per cent, the number of bedrooms will decline – meaning less public housing capacity when the developments are finished. Given the tendering process is confidential, we were limited in how much we could test this – but it’s clear that many stakeholders reject this approach.”

The renewal project also seeks to ensure public housing units meet demand. Currently, the state’s housing stock is primarily three bedrooms, but the main demand is for one- and two-bedroom units.

“However, it is still uncertain what options will be made available to large families if their previous estates can no longer accommodate them,” the report said.

The committee called on the state government to clarify exactly by how much public housing would be increased, explain how it would fill the shortage of housing stock, provide clearer plans and publish the sale price of public land sold.

Housing Minister Martin Foley noted the report repeatedly made clear the estates were dilapidated and required renewal.

“The committee report’s findings and recommendations support the Public Housing Renewal Program’s approach to replacing unsafe public housing with purpose-built homes for some of our most vulnerable Victorians – and they deserve nothing less,” Mr Foley said on Tuesday.

public housing renewal program melbourne vic
The Ascot Vale public housing estate is pictured. Photo: Department of Health and Human Services Building Authority

He shifted blame to the Turnbull government for not providing adequate welfare payments.

“The real driver is to have the federal government stop cutting support that drives people into housing.”

Victoria has the lowest amount of social housing units per capita of all Australian states, the report found.

A Greens motion to revoke the planning scheme amendments for six public housing estates is expected to be debated on Thursday.

Matthew Guy said it was unlikely the opposition would support the Greens’ revocation motion.

Shadow housing minister Georgie Crozier called on the government to address the housing waiting list blowout.

Mr Foley called on the “Liberal-Greens coalition” to support the renewal project.

The government will respond to the report recommendations in due course, he said.

The renewal program would redevelop 1100 units at the nine Melbourne estates before upgrading regional Victorian housing estates, at a net cost of $185 million.

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