Fears of displacement as Park Towers earmarked for redevelopment
Dr Mohammed Ahmed, a public housing tenant at South Melbourne’s Park Towers, fears his life will be uprooted without a viable alternative if his building is knocked down at some as yet unspecified point during the next 30 years.
Like many residents, he is concerned about the state government’s plan to demolish and redevelop 44 high-rise public housing towers across Melbourne in what would be “Australia’s biggest ever urban renewal project”.
“I’m extremely happy to be able to live in South Melbourne. I would be depressed because I don’t want to see the Park Towers demolished in my life,” Dr Amed, 62, said, a retired veterinarian who lives with a disability after suffering a stroke eight months ago.
Dr Ahmed came to Australia from Ethiopia in 2012 and has lived at Park Towers at 332 Park St for five years in a three-bedroom unit he shares with his two teenage children and his cat, Chickpea.
“From my point of view, I consider this building an iconic building for Australia because this building is one of the first prefabrication buildings,” he said.
Keeping it would definitely be precious for the people. Improvements are welcome, but I don’t think there’s a shortage of money and technology to upgrade the building without demolishing it.
Some of the estates listed as first to go are Flemington, North Melbourne, and Carlton, with the buildings ranging from 50 to 70 years old.
But little information is known as to when or what will happen to residents when the Park Towers and other buildings are razed, leaving residents anxious and uncertain about what lies ahead, including relocating to unfamiliar areas.
The announcement was made as part of the much-awaited housing statement and the government’s pledge to build 800,000 homes over the decade to 2034 to accommodate the state’s growing population.
Former Premier Daniel Andrews said in September that “unless we take bold and decisive action now, Victorians will be paying the price for generations to come”.
Currently, there are 10,000 people living across the 44 towers but after all the sites are rebuilt, the state government said 30,000 people were expected to be housed, along with a boost of 10 per cent more social housing across the sites.
However, it is reported that 11,000 would be public housing tenants, with 19,000 other residents “in a mixture of social and market housing”. While the housing reforms have gained some support from advocates and community groups, the prospect of a public-private partnership with land being sold to developers has prompted fears the move could exacerbate the existing shortage of public housing.
Public Housing Residents’ Network and Save Public Housing Collective spokesperson Cory Memery said, “it’s going to be a relocation camp” with moving residents from “tower to tower” while new buildings go up.
“There are better ways to do it. They can retain, repair, and reinvest the money and keep people in the same communities they’re already living in without disrupting their kids from school, their hospitals, or their community,” he said.
State Greens MP for Melbourne Ellen Sandell said the proposed project “could be the end of public housing in Victoria”, adding the Greens had demanded that the estates were rebuilt with 100 per cent public housing, “not expensive private apartments”.
“Without this, the public housing waiting list and rental stress will continue to grow,” she said.
Also calling for the government to reverse its decision is the Inner Melbourne Community Legal (IMCL), which said it “will not solve the housing crisis in this community, which is one comprised of vulnerable or marginalised people”. •