On Friday night, in pouring rain, several hundred people gathered at Royal Park for a vigil for a young woman who had been horrifically bashed to death a week earlier. The woman, Courtney Herron, had been reportedly homeless in the weeks before her death.
A combination of awful social and personal circumstances, including insecure housing, or homelessness, appear to have contributed to her death.
From the slope on which Courtney’s vigil took place, the lights of both North Melbourne and Flemington housing estates could be seen through the rain.
These public housing estates are home to several thousand Victorians who would have difficulty finding accomodation through the private rental market. Residents pay low rents that are capped at about 30% of their income.
There are upwards of 30,000 people in Victoria on public housing waiting lists. In short, more affordable homes are desperately needed in Victoria.
None of this is news.
What should be news is the low levels of government investment into public and affordable housing.
In March, the Council to Homeless People wrote that Victoria now has fewer social housing units than it did in 2014 and spends less per capita on social housing than other states.
The CHP called for 3000 new public, social, or community owned homes to be built each year.
VCOSS welcomed the Victorian government’s election pledge to build 1000 new units per year, while also stressing more was needed.
The VLGA summarised the measures to address homelessness in the 2019/20 Victorian budget as:
- $50.4 million over two years from 2019 for homeless support services
- $209.1 million over four years from 2019 to build new homes to address homelessness.
The VLGA responded to these measures by saying : “While the total investments in tackling homelessness and housing assistance are commendable, it represents a fraction of investments in other areas, such as the $1.44 billion in increase our prisons’ capacity. Sustained funding to address housing and homelessness is required.”
In Flemington this week, the demolition of 200 ‘walk up’ homes has finally commenced with barriers placed around a perimeter for the first of three stages of demolition.
The construction of new homes is very much welcomed given the state of the run down ‘walk ups’.
However, as yet, no developer has been found to rebuild the walk ups – which will take up to 12mths to demolish according to the state government’s timeline.
So for at least another 12 months, Flemington housing estate will have 200 fewer public housing homes available for people in need.
The state government has only pledged $30m to the redevelopment of the entire Flemington housing estate:
Following the demolition of the walk ups, $23m will remain to fund the rebuilding of 220 new homes. The sale of land on the estate for private homes to fund the rebuild is similar to the model being implemented across Victoria.
Given the desperate need for new affordable homes in Flemington and elsewhere, it’s a shame more is not being done to invest in new homes and speed up the renewal process.
Given that no developers have yet committed to building new homes, perhaps Moonee Valley City Council could explore the feasibility of partnering with a community housing organisation to replace the walk ups and develop affordable and private housing.
Moonee Valley City Council is about to endorse its four year strategic resource plan that sets out $65m worth of borrowings over the next four years to fund infrastructure projects including the Flemington Hub – with a total cost for building and land of $65m.
It seems oddly out of balance for MVCC to be proposing a $65m redevelopment of Debney’s Park while the state government will have pledged only $30m to rebuild 220 homes for vulnerable people in Flemington.
The vigil on Friday night brought the terrible consequences of housing insecurity close to Flemington. I hope we can respond meaningfully to homelessness.