Social housing scrapped

Housing Choices Australia social-housing apartments next to the proposed site. 207592_01 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A social housing project in central Dandenong has been quashed by Greater Dandenong councillors amid concerns of entrenching a crime-ridden “ghetto”.

The council proposed to sell its 2-4 Hemmings Street car park at a discount to Housing Choices Australia (HCA) to build and manage 43 affordable-housing units.

The $15 million proposal was a response to Greater Dandenong’s state-high homelessness rate and paucity of affordable housing.

The project would have prioritised those fleeing family violence, the elderly and young families who are homeless, and disabled tenants.

It would be next door to HCA’s 19-apartment social housing project at 6 Hemmings Street, sharing open space, a community garden and support services.

Cr Tim Dark said the project was an “absolute buster” in the “wrong location”, citing murder, stabbings, drug-dealing, burglary and assaults within the “unsafe” crime-prone precinct.

It was better suited to a “salt-and-pepper” location among private homes, rather than an area dense with public housing, he said.

Cr Dark said the locale would “gentrify” when people with “good incomes”, who were “working hard” and had “ambition and drive” moved in.

“They are the people we should be looking towards having.”

Also in opposition, Cr Peter Brown cited people “shooting up”, “cops chasing people” and “hookers” in the “disaster area”.

However, Cr Matthew Kirwan said the “well managed” social housing proposal wouldn’t feed crime but was “part of the solution”.

Crime in the precinct wasn’t linked to HCA’s existing social housing units but instead caused by “poorly managed rooming houses, squats and overcrowded private rentals”, he said.

“Well managed affordable housing with a diverse range of tenants alleviates social problems not increases them.”

Despite 5000 on the public housing waiting list, the council area ranked 23rd in the state for social housing ratios, Cr Kirwan noted.

“With Greater Dandenong becoming ever increasingly unaffordable, we need to take action.

“Our excellent work feeding people (via the material aid initiative) needs to be partnered with putting a roof over their head.”

Cr Angela Long said the extra social housing was needed for “our people”.

Unemployed people and pensioners couldn’t afford a home on their own, and were forced to share with other families, sleep in cars, parks or couch-surf, she said.

Cr Sean O’Reilly said people who required social housing “weren’t bad people”. The Covid-19 pandemic “should remind us that people’s luck can change pretty quickly”.

Under the plan, Greater Dandenong would sell the 60-space car park for $350,000 – about 25 per cent of the site’s value, according to a council report.

A 30-space car park would have been leased back to the council at a peppercorn rate.

After the meeting, Cr Kirwan said he’d introduce an alternative notice-of-motion to alleviate opposing councillors’ concerns.

“A well managed social housing opportunity is too good an opportunity to pass up.”