All in this together

It is clear that the housing crisis is a key issue for the Australian electorate at the moment.

We have over 60,000 Victorians on the waiting list for public housing, young people are finding it impossible to buy their first home, private rents are unaffordable and the levels of homelessness continue to climb.

When these matters are debated one of the stock phrases that you will hear is: “We need all three levels of Government working together.”

But what does this actually mean? On one level it means that when we have the State Government putting extra money into affordable housing it is counter-productive for the Commonwealth Government to reduce funding under the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA).

But how does the third level of Government, local Councils, make a contribution to combatting the housing crisis?

There is quite a lot that Councils can do. Some Councils, like the City of Port Philip, have long track records in taking action on improving affordable housing options. Their latest 10-year plan seeks to;

“Continue to grow the supply and diversity of affordable housing in the City of Port Phillip to address priority local housing needs. This will include facilitating new community housing projects through property and cash contributions to local housing organisations, and advocating for an affordable housing planning mechanism that will incentivise private sector delivery of new affordable housing including in Fishermans Bend.”

Importantly, they don’t just talk about the issue, they make real contributions of money and land.

Other Councils would do well to follow their lead.

For most Councils, however, their interaction with affordable housing will be limited to their consideration of planning applications.

When applications are made, either for public housing or community housing, Councils can play a strong role in ensuring a prompt and fair consideration of the applications.

Unfortunately, what we are seeing over recent weeks is a disinclination on the part of Councils to show leadership. We desperately need more public housing yet applications for new developments are being actively opposed or delayed.

In Boroondara, the Council is running a campaign against the redevelopment of the Markham estate. On that site, 56 public housing units were demolished in December 2015. Before the demolition, we were promised that the public housing would be replaced, and an extra 10 per cent delivered. The Minister for Planning made himself the responsible planning authority for the site.

As can be seen in the Tweets above, the Council does not want the new project to go ahead. In our view, the time to oppose the new project was before the existing public housing was torn down. Now that it has been demolished, it is the responsibility of all of us to bring the replacement public housing on-line as soon as possible.

In the City of Darebin, the Director of Housing has applied to build 68 new public housing units on the Huttonham site.

That is the site in Preston where public housing properties were demolished in 2011. For six years the site has remained vacant. Since August 2015, the VPTA has been running a strong campaign to build modern public housing on this valuable vacant land.

Yet when the application was before the Council on February 13 a motion was put that the application be rejected. This is despite the fact that Council officers had recommended that the application be supported.

When the motion to reject the application was tied Council decided to defer the application until February 27.

So once again, the construction of much needed public housing is delayed. If Council do not approve the application, the Director of Housing will need to take the matter to VCAT. More time will be lost, and money will be expended. This is time and money that we can’t afford.

With the redevelopment of ten more estates being planned, it is vital that we get this process right.

So if we really are all in this together, then it is time for local Councils to do their bit, and support the construction of new public housing.