Victorian government called to seize vacant properties to house the homeless

Victorian Socialists are calling on the Andrews government to seize vacant properties from landlords to house the homeless. This bold policy idea is inspired by Barcelona, where the city housing authority has warned landlords to either fill vacant dwellings or lose them for use as public housing. 

“Right here in the City of Melbourne, we have some 6,548 empty dwellings – that’s 11% of all city residences,” says Victorian Socialists Lord Mayoral candidate Kath Larkin. “StreetCount estimates that on a single night in the middle of winter, around 279 people sleep rough in our city. That means there are more than 20 times as many empty dwellings in Melbourne as homeless people on any given night.” 

Victorian Socialists’ City of Melbourne candidate Chris di Pasquale agrees. “Landlords should not be allowed to hoard property in an attempt to squeeze out maximum profits while people are sleeping in the streets.” 

The last census showed homelessness in Victoria rising 43% between 2006 and 2016, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem, with unemployment surging and international students and temporary visa holders left without support. While a total of 34,844 people in inner Melbourne are reportedly homeless or living in insecure housing, during this crisis the Victorian government has placed only a fraction of them in hotels – with nowhere to go from the end of April – and the City of Melbourne’s temporary pop-up shelters provide for just 200 rough sleepers. 

Meanwhile, rather than provide a permanent solution to the problem by building public housing, the state government is attempting to sell off nine inner-city estates to private developers. Already Victoria spends less than any other Australian state or territory on public housing, leaving at least 80,000 people to languish on the waiting list for housing that has become dangerously overcrowded and is falling into disrepair. 

“It’s a sick reality of capitalism that housing is treated as a commodity, not a human right,” Larkin says. “As a result, we have apartments laying empty in the middle of an economic crisis, when there’s a desperately long public housing waitlist and homelessness is growing.” 

July’s hard lockdown of public housing flats in the City of Melbourne threw the government’s abject neglect and disregard of its tenants into stark relief. Residents had warned for months that poor sanitation, overcrowding and a lack of translated public health materials in the flats was putting them at risk. 

We need a revolution in public housing. Victorian Socialists will fight alongside Melbourne’s public housing residents to get the resources they need to stay safe during the pandemic and beyond. “We want to set up a public housing residents advisory group,” says Larkin, “so Melbourne City Council fights for and with public housing residents instead of being an agent for private developer interests.” 

If elected, Victorian Socialists will campaign for the following: 

– The confiscation of empty dwellings from greedy landlords; – To clear the 80,000-strong public housing waiting list; – To build 30,000 new housing units in three years, 50,000 in five years, and 100,000 

within eight years; – Mandatory inclusionary zoning, so that all new developments comprise at least 20% 

low-cost public housing units; – To provide a massive increase in resources for repairs to public housing, so residents 

aren’t forced to fight for basic upkeep; – To give public housing residents a voice on council through an independent advisory 

body. 

And for the 50% of low-income earners in Melbourne currently paying more rent than they can afford, we’ll campaign for: 

– A five-year rent freeze; – Rate relief for all resident home owners experiencing housing stress; – The government to close loopholes and impose a real moratorium on evictions now. 

Where necessary, Victorian Socialists will also organise eviction defence for Melbourne residents who are unable to pay rent. 

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