During his victory speech, newly-crowned PM Anthony Albanese reflected on his journey from a childhood growing up in ‘public housing down the road in Camperdown’ to the top political leadership position in the country, saying he hopes it ‘inspires Australians to reach for the stars’.
However, in a social media post a few days later, Action for Public Housing (APH) displayed a photo of the premises that Albanese grew up in, outlining that when the prime minister was born, governments nationwide were building 10,000 public homes a year for a population of 11 million.
‘For all the new PM’s talk about growing up in public housing and the vital support it provided him and his mum, he has no plan to extend that same support to people who need it today,’ the housing advocacy group claimed.
Indeed, federal Labor’s policy platform notes that ‘there are more Australians renting, and renting for longer’ and ‘more people experiencing homelessness than ever before’, but when it comes down to it the new government’s priority is making homeownership more affordable.
As Sydney public housing defender Andrew Chuter points out, when Labor’s policy does touch on public housing, it’s under the umbrella term of social housing, which includes both public and community housing.
Since 2002, successive NSW governments have been shifting to a privatisation model, whereby old public housing estates are sold to redevelopers, who then build larger blocks that comprise of 70 percent private apartments and 30 percent community housing.
Community housing is managed and sometimes owned by private not-for-profits, which means the government saves on upkeep, while the housing is less secure being subject to private market forces, and the redevelopments often result in less bedrooms for low-income tenants.
Advocates argue that public housing estates could be maintained but purposefully aren’t, and then the focus could be on building more. This would also better the plight of public housing tenants, who are often displaced for years during the redevelopment process, without any clear idea of their fate.
Housing affordability was a prominent issue the recent election, but both majors focused on ownership, with Labor’s government subsidies and the Coalition’s proposal to raid superannuation.
So, the 148,000 households on the public housing waiting list nationwide have bascially been forgotten.
Action for Public Housing is one of a number of groups in NSW currently calling on both federal and state governments to return to the public housing model, which could easily see the 50,000 households on this state’s waiting list housed if the right to housing was prioritised in policy.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Action for Public Housing spokesperson Andrew Chuter.
What is the Albanese government promising in terms of public housing?
‘A lot of us public housing campaigners found it refreshing to hear Anthony Albanese talk about his public housing background in his election victory speech. It’s unfortunate though that Labor policy on housing makes no mention of public housing, only “social and affordable housing”, which is either owned or operated by private providers, where the rents are higher and the protections for tenants are weaker’.
‘Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund is a plan to provide social housing for just one in every eight applicants currently on the waiting list over the next five years. There are many more people than that in serious housing stress or have just given up and not bothered applying for public housing.
‘Albanese has already prioritised housing in a way that the Coalition didn’t during its decade in power. The PM has appointed a minister for housing in his new cabinet. And housing minister Julie Collins portfolio also takes in homelessness’.
What are your thoughts on these developments?
‘This reflects that the housing situation has gradually gotten worse over the last decade, and sharply worse over the last three years. It became a top issue so both major parties made prominent announcements about it just before the election in a hope to win voters, which basically failed.
All the analysis, even the mainstream outlets, were critical of their policies, saying it would push up house prices.
‘For a start, we mustn’t forget too that Albanese ditched previous policy to abolish negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions, which, they correctly argued, push house prices upwards.
‘The Help to Buy scheme was just more fuel to the fire, pumping up the private market and predicated upon government recouping costs from rising prices.
‘If I went to the USA, I’d feel proud that we have Medicare, at least some form of universal health care, but if someone visited Sydney from Vienna, where 60 percent of people live in public housing funded by a one percent income tax, I’d be ashamed of the homelessness and state of disrepair of our public housing.
‘Early last year, a coalition of NSW housing groups, including Action for Public Housing, stepped up the campaign to not only expand public housing, but to ensure that pre-existing stock is kept public rather than redeveloped into something new.
‘This was in relation to plans to redevelop two public housing estates: one in Glebe and another in South Eveleigh.
‘Since 2016, the NSW Coalition government has been redeveloping public housing estates under the state Land and Housing Corporation’s Communities Plus program. But this doesn’t seem to have the best interests of pre-existing public housing tenants as its focus’.