Response to Victorian Socialist Alliance Housing Policy

Response to Victorian Socialist Alliance Housing Policy

We need to amend the following introductory sentence:

The Socialist Alliance supports public ownership of human infrastructure and services, including housing, transport, electricity, water and banking, understanding that the private market is unable to put human need before profit greed.

The fine print of the Victorian SA policy makes it clear that we orient to, and support, ordinary Australians owning their own homes. However this introductory sentence mentions housing, which can be taken to mean workers’ family homes, along with transport, electricity, water and banking as being the target of our “public ownership” agenda.

It is true that private home ownership may become obsolete under a future socialist system where our needs are well looked after. However we have to realise that many Australians are currently battling to keep their homes and hold suspicions about socialists. Some people have been led to believe that “socialists” take away family savings, small businesses and homes. We cannot afford to frighten people off, with ambiguous wording in the first sentence, by inferring that their family homes could be under further threat if they vote Socialist Alliance.

Furthermore some of the sections criticising landlords overlook the fact that landlords are often working class people who purchase rental properties out of fear for their financial security in old age. Landlords can even be home owners who re-partner in later life, move in together and rent out one of their properties to cover the mortgage repayments. We do want to look after the homeless and poorer tenants, we do want to get tough on landlords, but we don’t want to alienate older working class couples who have scraped together enough money to own two properties. To better orient towards working class home owners and Mum & Dad property investors I suggest weremove the word “housing” from the first sentence of this housing policy and then add the following paragraph:

Australians are not being well looked after in their old age because of inadequate pensions. The current system forces many people to purchase rental properties as well as a family home, to ensure their financial security in old age. This pressure to invest in property often causes stress and insecurity in workers’ lives and drives up the price of real estate. Pensions should be raised and public housing stock increased so that ordinary working people can enjoy a decent standard of living throughout their lives without pressures to enter the property market.

I attended the state executive meeting, as an observer, where Victorian state election policy was discussed and adopted. I had no chance to read the proposed policies beforehand, but I did notice some proposed policies lacked a family’s perspective. I asked the members present if any of them were bringing up a family and not a single hand went up. I think it is most important that input from people with families is actively sought when a policy, as fundamental to families’ lives as home ownership, is being drafted and adopted. As the disability rights movement would say, “Nothing about us without us”.

Referring to the following dot point which lacks a home owning family perspective:

  • Publically acquire unoccupied dwellings if they are not made available to the rental market.

Ordinary hard working people often have unoccupied dwellings: the old family home of a recently deceased parent is an unoccupied dwelling. A holiday home by the beach, where families can relax and not pay exorbitant holiday apartment rates is an unoccupied dwelling for much of the year. We can’t threaten hard working families with grabbing the old family home where they played as kids as soon as Granny’s in the grave, or the holiday home where they can relax together, and putting these on the rental market! Socialists can’t just acquire half a million dollars worth of property from families that scraped and saved all their lives. This is a recipe for stirring up working class resentment against homeless drug addicts, homeless indigenous people and homeless single mother families.

We urgently need to make this policy point far more balanced and responsive. I suggest we amend it by removing the words “unoccupied dwellings” and replace it with the words “dwellings which have remained unoccupied for a period of over two years.” This provision would protect workers’ holiday homes. It would also grant grieving families a two year period to remove personal belongings from their deceased parents’ homes. The two year period after the death of elderly relatives should be sufficient to allow families to decide whether to sell or rent out the old family home, or to decide which of their relatives wants to move in there.

This section would then state

  • Publically acquire dwellings which have remained unoccupied for a period of over two years if they are not made available to the rental market.

A further section states:

  • New properties to be energy efficient and use universal design principles (aged and disability accessible).

This section implies that all new housing must be made accessible to people with disabilities. This differs from a section I put forward in “Disability Rights within the Community” (AV Vol 10 No 2) where I called for

Building codes which ensure that a large percentage of new housing stock are fully accessible to people in wheelchairs.

I did not go so far as to suggest all housing stock be made accessible to people in wheelchairs. This is because we need to move towards medium urban density, including quality blocks of flats of an appropriate height, for environmental reasons. To make upstairs dwellings accessible to people in wheelchairs would require lifts, which use a lot of energy, as well as larger rooms inside every flat which requires more heating and cooling energy. Also lifts break down. Lifts should not be used in cases of fire. So, upstairs flats are not ideal homes for people who use wheelchairs. Upstairs flats are better suited for compact, maintenance-free, gardening-free lifestyles which are often sought by singles, small groups of friends or childless couples. A suitable compromise between wheelchair access and sustainable living might be to add the following paragraph:

To address our housing and environmental needs we support medium density living in urban areas including the construction of quality apartment blocks of an appropriate height. All new ground floor dwellings should be made accessible to people in wheelchairs. Financial assistance should be given to existing home owners to retrofit their homes for wheelchair access to enable them to accommodate visitors who use wheelchairs. In cases where people acquire physical disabilities or give birth to (or adopt) children with disabilities their homes should be retrofitted for free.