At the same time, the number of people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity in Victoria has increased to 100,000, according to waiting lists.
Repeated inquiries and reports point to inadequate investment, poor maintenance and lack of strategy. Overcrowding is a function of a broken system.
These conditions directly feed a narrative of decline that is used to stigmatise, detain, constrain and displace public housing residents.
It is no coincidence the estates under lockdown are also earmarked for “socially-mixed” redevelopment and privatisation, which will break up the existing communities and provide even fewer places for those on lowest incomes.
There are alternatives to a hard lockdown
The public housing lockdowns are a police-led intervention in an already over-policed community.
There is now welcome evidence of social services engagement, but this comes as a secondary consideration.
The residents of the affected towers do not need more policing. They have community-based and grassroots organisations such as RISE that have been actively engaged as members of the community.
The spike in cases demands a health care response, not a police response.
The Victorian government did not have to look far for existing models, such as the Aboriginal-led COVID-19 response across Australia, which demonstrates the effectiveness of community-led initiatives.
The most effective models for delivering public housing at a scale that can address need are also well-known to policy-makers and academics.
Yet this government continues to pursue policies that reduce the amount of public housing available.
What Victoria needs is more and better quality public housing and supportive community-building practices that grant everyone the same dignities. Let’s trust those living in public housing.
If the right information, in the right language, with trusting relationships with government and other authorities were enabled, this public health crisis could be worked through in a just and equitable way. As it seems to be in all other sections of Victorian society.