People’s Sleepout – Housing is a Human Right

There will be a People’s Sleepout in Brisbane Post Office Square at 3pm on Friday, 21 June 2019 to help draw attention to the issues raised in Jonno’s speech below and pressure all levels of government to do more to address the root causes of homelessness.

Please invite your friends to the event.

Jonno looking into the abyss

People’s Sleepout – Housing is a Human Right – 24hr Occupation

COUNCILLOR SRI speaking at Brisbane City Council about three weeks ago.

Thanks. I rise to speak on homelessness, gentrification and city planning. Approximately 10,000 Brisbanites are currently experiencing homelessness and roughly 30,000 homes are sitting empty long term. If you walk this city’s streets late in the evenings, you’ll see people sleeping on park benches, in bus stop shelters, back alleys and shop doorways, and there are also many, many more struggling out of sight, sleeping in cars, homeless shelters, precarious short-term rentals, abandoned warehouses and parking lots and couch-surfing in overcrowded homes of friends and relatives.

In the last 10 years homelessness in this city has increased at a much higher rate than general population growth. Developers and investors have been allowed to knock down cheaper housing and replace it with overpriced apartments that are often left vacant. This problem has been ignored for too long and now our community’s foundations are starting to crack. The City Councillors in this room are among the most powerful people in the city. You have the power to do more to fix this and I’m calling on all of you to get off your arses and step up.

CHAIR: Councillor Sri…

COUNCILLOR SRI: The roof’s leaking and all you’re doing is placing buckets under the drips.

CHAIR: Perhaps, I mean I understand the sentiment, but just a classier term please.

COUNCILLOR SRI: Sorry, arses isn’t classy enough.

Some would say that we as Councillors don’t actually have much real control over our city, that in fact the big developers, property speculators and bankers shape our metropolis and make the real decisions. But if that’s true, it’s only because the major party politicians who run our system have sold out to the corporate sector. You’ve handed over the keys to the city behind closed doors and now our communities are suffering as a result.

Our high rates of Aboriginal homelessness and youth homelessness are particularly shameful, as is the chronic shortage of crisis accommodation for people experiencing domestic violence and family violence. Too many people remain in abusive relationships because they can’t afford to move out. It makes me wonder what good is all this so-called economic growth if wealth inequality is still rising, wages are stagnating and more and more people are struggling to afford a home.

If someone were to burn down the offices of an exploitative real estate agency, you would condemn them vociferously. Yet every day when agents and landlords evict families into homelessness because they can’t afford rising rents, you say nothing.

Shelter is a fundamental human right, but leaving the provision of housing up to the private sector has failed spectacularly. Too many investors would rather rent their properties out to wealthy tourists via Airbnb or leaving them empty long term instead of dropping the rent. Supply will never meet demand because the demand for profit is insatiable and if private property prices ever stop rising for a few months, the developers stop building. Not only is our current housing system exploitative and unjust, it’s also economically unsustainable.

First home buyers are taking on unprecedented levels of private debt just to get into the market. By up-zoning certain neighbourhoods without doing your homework and planning for the long-term ramifications, this Council is driving up land values and making housing even less affordable while increasing the risk of a property market collapse.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can have a city where everyone who needs a home gets a home, where people in crisis don’t have to languish on the public housing waiting list for months and years, where as soon as someone becomes homeless due to mental illness or domestic violence or a private landlord jacking up the rent, they are immediately transitioned into supported accommodation.

We already have the knowledge and resources to do this. The solutions are proven and practical. This City Council has the money and the land to build well-designed public housing that will take people off the street and place downward pressure on rents in the private sector. New public housing can be easily disbursed around the city, rather than concentrated in one street or neighbourhood, creating diverse, mutually supportive community networks. Brisbane City Council has the money to build hundreds of new homes per year and actually house the homeless. So I’m calling on this Council’s Administration to stop mincing around and do it.

We also have the power to charge higher rates and levies on investors who fail to rent out their properties. This would incentivise investors to fill their new apartments with tenants, rather than leaving them empty long term and generate revenue which could go towards better public transport and community facilities and perhaps most significantly, we could introduce inclusionary zoning, so that private developers are required by low to include a proportion of public housing in each new development.

Other cities around Australia are already doing this and there’s no good reason that we can’t do it too. The solutions are clear, but we lack the political will. I know some of you in this place will be tempted to pass the buck, to claim falsely that housing the homeless is the sole responsibility of State or Federal governments. That’s rubbish. All politicians should be working at homelessness, regardless of what level of government you’re working through.

It’s true that the Queensland Government’s current housing strategy falls woefully short of what’s needed. They’re dragging their feet on the urgent need to strengthen renters’ rights and are delivering new public housing at such a slow rate that they’re not even making a dent in the current backlog. But there’s no law or regulation preventing us here in Brisbane City Council from also doing more on this issue.

In fact, as recently as a decade ago, this Council played a much more active role in supporting and housing the homeless. Today all you do is play loud music late at night in public squares to deter people from sleeping there, so that the visible evidence of your apathy and ineptitude remains out of sight and out of mind.

The lack of action from all levels of government to address the housing affordability crisis is an international embarrassment and a stain on our collective conscience. We can and must do better.

Jonno Sri
@ Brisbane City Council Sitting June 2019

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