The Victorian government’s 2017 home policy includes a majority transfer of public housing to housing associations. Housing Minister Martin Foley’s explanation is that the country is a dreadful home manager.
A similar rationale underlies the committing of public housing estates to private developers to construct private home and home extension builders to complete existing projects, the earnings of which fund some new dwellings with the extra justification of raising social mix.
Our soon-to-be-published research assesses the rollout of this plan. In inner Melbourne, after redevelopment of the Kensington, Carlton and Prahran estates, nine more estates are targeted. The tenants of buildings to be demolished will be emptied from mid-2018, according to a government briefing paper.
The national Greens MP for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, has criticised the app as selling public property to private developers to get a bagful of money and a smattering of new social housing. He adds that Melbourne wants a large scale construct of new public housing on a 1960s scale.
Foley’s defence of the rollout, in an unusual non sequitur, is that Labour cannot condemn the next generation of Victorians to reside in housing poverty.
Public housing stock exchange and estate redevelopments in public-private mix are a part of a trend that started in Thatcher’s Britain. The Blair government continued the strategy, which is now neoliberal policy orthodoxy in the United Kingdom and Australia.
This permits authorities to twist from providing housing for individuals on low incomes by shifting responsibility to non-government and personal sectors.
The truth is, home associations aren’t necessarily protected or better managers, particularly because they become institutions in their own right. Additional privatisation of public property to fund updates and a second storey extension to public homes not just fails to provide decent value for taxpayers, but is unsustainable. At some stage there’ll be additional upgrades required and no soil left to market.
The debate that the state shouldn’t be in the company of handling or building homes is one we are hearing more frequently. It is linked to the small-government situation more widely: if the state participate in healthcare, education, social press?
Since the ABC and BBC demonstrate, however, state-owned enterprises can function perfectly economically. And, paradoxically, they supply a rare source of ideological freedom from both government and big business.
Why shouldn’t the state finance an ongoing program of renovating, upgrading and constructing public housing? Why not set a regional organisational structure that’s locally responsive? There’s no case for supposing that, only because the condition is involved, management and construction has to be poor and individuals will probably be consigned to “home poverty”.
The significant determinant is an issue of finance. And the condition will constantly have better and more economical access to fund compared to non-government and private businesses.
If fund were really as hopeless a problem as authorities like to make out, and if it had been deemed fair that privatisating public property could help finance this procedure – and all these are big ifs, that need to be openly debated – then the authorities ought to be the programmer, to keep control of the proceeds. These should return into public housing rather than evaporating with a personal developer.