Public Housing Lockdown: Stand with Residents
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Residents in nine public housing towers in North Melbourne and Flemington have been detained in their homes in response to COVID cases in the flats.
The working class people, mostly migrants, who live in the flats are now paying the price of State government's mismanagement of quarantine hotels, where they used private security firms with no training in infection control.
The roll out of the hard lockdown on public housing residents was punitive, chaotic and without regard for care and safety. Without any warning or consultation, residents were prevented from leaving their homes and the flats were flooded with hundreds of police, instead of health care workers or civilian officials.
Residents in Flemington, Kensington and North Melbourne housing estates have a long history of racial profiling and harassment by the police. Even after settling, out of court, a case of systematic racial profiling in 2015 reports of racial profiling continue.
Given the high risk of the spread of the virus through the towers, why didn’t they have a plan? Instead it took 20 hours after the hard lockdown was imposed to announce rent relief and income support.
This crisis also shines a light on the decades of neglect of public housing and its residents.
Residents of the flats have been raising the alarm about the potential public health crisis that would result from the pandemic hitting public housing towers.
But the government failed to organise proper cleaning of the towers, to supply adequate hand disinfectant and masks, or provide appropriate or enough multi-language public health information to the residents of overcrowded and neglected public housing blocks. Indeed, the Department of Housing refused permission to the local MP, Adam Bandt, to distribute multi-language materials.
The flats are overcrowded because the government has not built many four- or five-bedroom public housing residences since the early 1980s. The State Government’s so-called Public Housing Renewal Program has demolished larger units, making the situation worse.
Public housing is in a state of disrepair. Residents have to fight tooth and nail for any repairs. Victoria continues to spend less on public housing per person than any other state or territory, and years of underfunding has created a perfect storm.
We stand in solidarity with those whose lives are being upended by the crisis. The government must provide genuine aid and support to those now detained in the flats and to improve the conditions in all public housing towers so that this draconian response is not replicated. We are demanding the following of the Andrews government:
- Get the police out of the flats, and replace them with appropriate health care workers and professionals.
- A jobs guarantee: nobody should be left without a job because of this lockdown. If workers lose their job, the government must provide them with alternative employment. Penalise bosses that sack workers because they’re unable to attend work.
- We support the waiving of rent for residents. Bills must also be suspended for the duration of the lockdown.
- Residents who need carers should be immediately re-housed in appropriate accommodation, if their carers won’t be let in.
- Provide free care to those who are dependent on the care of the residents who are now locked down.
- Provide free internet and streaming services to all public housing tenants to assist with communication, entertainment and education.
- Increase cleaning of ALL public housing buildings (including those not currently locked down) with cleaners trained in infection control, provided full PPE
- Supply masks, disinfectant, and multi-language public health information to all public housing residents..
- Massive increase in resources for repairs in public housing, so residents don’t need to fight for basic upkeep.
- Commit to building 50,000 new public housing units in five years including ones appropriate for larger families.
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