Public housing

Victoria is spending big to rebuild social housing, but some tenants say they are not being heard


Clare Hanson moved to the Ascot Vale estate 12 years ago, after a period of roaming.

“I love my apartment, I love the neighborhood, I love all my neighbors, all 2,000,” she said.

“There’s always a door I can knock on, get a cup of sugar, or help, or whatever.”

But Ms. Hanson is afraid her life in the apartments will change.

The Victorian government presented plans to demolish the ‘no elevator’ style buildings that Clare lives in over the next 15 years and replace them with more sustainable buildings.

The government claims the process will be a “renewal” that will make buildings more accessible and safer.

But Ms Hanson is concerned that this is not the case.

“We won’t be going back to anything like the apartments, the good solid apartments that we have here.

“And no one will come back to social housing. We will come back to social housing. They are not the same.”

One apartment building in this Ascot Vale unit complex is still damaged by fire in 2020.(ABC News: Daniel Close)

Ms Hanson says her attempts to make her voice heard regarding long-term plans for Ascot Vale Estate have failed.

“I’m not a fool and I’m struggling. I haven’t found any place that wants my contribution,” she said.

And while she tries to find out more about her long-term future, she can’t even finish basic chores around the house.

“I’ve been here 12 years and have never had my windows cleaned, and I don’t live on the ground floor so I can’t clean them myself.”

A woman looks out the window.
Clare Hanson says the windows in her social housing on the second floor haven’t been cleaned in 12 years.(ABC News: Oliver Gordon)

Social housing tenants feel ignored

Many tenants in public and social housing feel their voices are being ignored, according to a new independent report on Victoria’s public and community housing systems.

Commissioned by the Victorian government following its announcement of a $ 5.3 billion investment in the state’s housing stock, dubbed the “Big Housing Build,” the Social Housing Regulation Review surveyed more than 2,000 tenants of public and social housing.

He found that many felt their voices were not being heard when it came to the upkeep and upkeep of their homes, and made a series of recommendations aimed at holding housing tenants accountable. social.

In an interim report tabled this week, he recommended amending Victoria’s housing law to protect the interests of current and future tenants.

The man in glasses stands on the roof or balcony with the cityscape behind him.
Review chair David Hayward says the recommendations represent a “major overhaul” of the current system.(ABC News: Oliver Gordon)

He also recommended the introduction of a single regulatory body to oversee the state’s 85,000 public and community housing, minimum housing standards for properties, and the extension of cultural safety measures for Indigenous tenants.

Review chair Professor Emeritus David Hayward says the recommendations represent a “major overhaul” of the current system.

“In the history of social housing dating back to 1945, tenants have never been at the center of the system,” he said.

“For the first time, we will say with determination, this is what we need to focus on.

“Which is a little ironic, because in all other aspects of public policy we have tended to try to give consumers a stronger voice.”

The public policy expert said many tenants have said they want more control over where they live.

“They don’t want anything fancy. They want to be treated like everyone else,” he said.

“They want to have a say in their neighborhoods, who lives next to them, what is done in their homes.

“[There’s] no wonder that, but ironically it would make a very significant change in social housing policy. “

The interim report is open for consultation until February 28 and a final report will be tabled in May.

Maintenance staff say they are underfunded

A Homes Victoria staff member who spoke to the ABC on condition of anonymity said the organization was not receiving enough funds to staff the maintenance offices of all social and public housing.

“I will be very surprised to learn if any of the [housing] the offices are fully staffed, ”the source said.

The staff member said Homes Victoria employees tried to raise their concerns directly to Housing Minister Richard Wynne in a virtual all staff meeting, but understaffing remained an issue.

“We need more funding for personnel, and we need more funding for maintenance. I just think the ministry is not giving us enough in terms of contracts and personnel.”

Weeds grow on a social housing building.
Researchers say many social housing buildings, like this one in Ascot Vale, have fallen into disrepair.(ABC News: Oliver Gordon)

Federal government data shows that over the past 10 years, Victoria has consistently spent less on maintaining public and social housing than any other state.

RMIT University urban researcher David Kelly said that meant many areas were in disrepair and ready for redevelopment.

“Because they have become more expensive, the government simply chooses not to spend anything on them, to wait until they reach a stage where it is now cheaper to tear them down and rebuild them than to maintain them.”

Mr Kelly described this as a managed decline.

“Where the government is trying to bring the housing stock down to a certain level so that the business case for renewal is better than maintenance.” “

Government says all residents will be supported

The Victorian government told the ABC it remains committed to the tenants of the Ascot Vale estate.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the housing department said comments were requested in 2019 on high-level principles that would inform the shared vision for the future of the estate.

“The department has established an advisory committee to develop continuous feedback to support the redevelopment of the Ascot Vale estate through an active participatory approach,” the statement said.

“The ministry will work closely with each resident to support them in their transition to alternative homes during the construction period. “

An aerial view of the 20-story mural in the Collingwood Social Housing Tower.
The government public housing construction also includes 150 new social houses behind public housing towers in Collingwood.(ABC News)

But back at the Ascot Vale estate, Clare Hanson remains preoccupied with the future of the place she calls home.

“I didn’t feel like my voice was heard at all,” she said.

“It’s like they own us and can do whatever they want with us.

“This is how I feel, that we are just not worth listening to.”