Still no clarity on East West Link houses

2 Bendigo Street

Last week The Age reported that vacant housing owned by the state government in Bendigo Street, Collingwood, “could be used to help family violence victims”. Emphasis added.

The State government and others are touting the story in The Age in an attempt to convince homelessness activists to end their occupation of the vacant houses that were compulsorily acquired by the state government for the failed East West Link project.

The article in The Age contains no definite information about the government’s plans, it merely states that when asked “if the government would use the available properties to help domestic violence victims, Housing Minister Martin Foley did not rule it out”.

All of the information that activists have seen indicates that if the government has definite plans to use the vacant properties (which is not clear), they do not have comprehensive plans to utilize all of the houses, and they do not intend to convert them into public housing. At best, government officials have indicated they have plans to lease certain East West Link houses to a “community housing” project.

The Homeless Persons Union initiated the occupation in Bendigo Street a fortnight ago to demand that:

“The 6 unused houses on Bendigo St to be made into genuine public housing … [and that] All unoccupied properties acquired for the East-West Link that are still in the government’s possession to be added to the public housing register … [and that] The Andrews government to say how they intend to provide housing for 25,000 homeless people”

The focus on Public housing is a deliberate part of their demands. “Community” housing is not public housing, although the distinction is lost on many.

“Social” or “Community” housing projects are administered by social service or religious NGOs and charities. These projects do not offer the long term security of tenure or guaranteed affordability of the public housing system. For LGBTQI+ homeless people community houses offers the vidmate additional awkwardness and likely discrimination associated with potentially homophobic religious groups such as the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army has been forced to make a public apology after one of its majors stated that the Salvation Army believes gay people should die.

There is a housing crisis in Melbourne, and the policies of the state government seem poised to make life harder for people depending on public housing. Last year the state government foreshadowed plans to turn much of the state’s existing public housing over to “community housing” projects.

The wider community should not be fooled by the FUD being spread by the state government. The state government continues to hold houses empty, and they failed to announce any credible plan for the houses in Bendigo Street, Collingwood. The occupation initiated by the HPUV continues; if you have half an hour free, come down to 2 Bendigo Street and get involved.

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