Socialist Alliance's draft housing policy includes the following paragraph:
"4. Establish a large-scale building program to make good quality, creatively designed, energy efficient, appropriately located, affordable, long term social housing with a low carbon footprint, to suit a wide variety of domestic arrangements, including the needs of people living communally, in extended families and in Aboriginal communities, available for all who choose it."
This paragraph refers to "social housing" rather than "public housing". The term "social housing" can have different meanings.
Public housing activists in Victoria are very critical of what goes by the name of "social housing" in this state. The replacement of public housing by "social housing" is seen as a form of privatisation by stealth.
Fiona Ross, a spokesperson for Friends of Public Housing, explains that:
‘Social Housing’ is a term that covers both housing associations and housing providers. Housing associations refer to private companies that expand new housing through construction, purchase or acquisition. They also manage housing portfolios-properties owned by themselves or leased from the Director of Housing. Housing providers are mainly smaller organizations. They manage rental housing portfolios. Many deal with temporary and emergency accommodation. Housing providers can be companies, incorporated associations or cooperatives.
There are several problems with this kind of 'social housing', Fiona Ross says:
There are complaints by tenants of high rents for low income earners living in social housing managed by housing associations and providers."
Another problem is that housing associations can pick and choose who they accept, with the result that the most disadvantaged people are often rejected.
There is a campaign in Victoria against the replacement of public housing by this kind of 'social housing'.
In support of this campaign, Socialist Alliance has produced the following leaflet:
Victoria’s public housing is being privatised by stealth. It is being replaced by what is termed ‘social housing’, but this term is misleading. Meanwhile there is a housing crisis with thousands of people barely being able to afford rent or mortgage repayments.
Public housing is being handed over to housing associations. These can pick and choose future tenants, with the result that the most disadvantaged people are often excluded. Housing associations are supposedly expected to take ‘up to 50%’ of their tenants from the public housing waiting list, but some take only a third of their tenants from the waiting list.
Furthermore, rents can be increased to levels that are unaffordable for those on low incomes. For people living in public housing, rent is set at 25% of combined household income, which means that it will be reduced if people lose their jobs. This is not the case in ‘social housing’ run by housing associations.
Tenants in “social housing” lack long-term security of tenure. After 10 years, housing associations can do whatever they like, including selling dwellings or raising rents without any limit.
Socialist Alliance advocates a massive expansion of public housing. We would like to reach the situation where anyone who wants public housing can get it without delay. Public housing should not be a residual service grudgingly provided only to those who can prove they are extremely poor. It should be available for all workers who want it.
In Venezuela the government is carrying out a massive program of house building — tens of thousands of units are being built each year, moving families from slums into decent modern apartments. There is no reason why a rich country like Australia cannot do the same.
In the past there have been some cases in Australia where public housing went beyond the residual model. For example the South Australian Housing Trust used to supply accommodation for a significant section of the South Australian working class.
The state and federal governments should construct high quality public housing for working-class people on a large scale. This would also create jobs.”