The Housing Commission of Victoria (colloquially known as the Housing Commission and currently known as Victorian Office of Housing) was a State Government body responsible for public housing in Victoria, Australia. It was established in 1938 by the Victorian Minister for Housing, and was renamed Victorian Office of Housing in 1982.
The main activity of the Commission was the construction tens of thousands of houses and flats in Melbourne and many country towns between the late 1940s and the early 70s, providing low rent housing for low income families. The most visible legacy of the Commission is the 40 or so high-rise apartment towers in inner Melbourne, all built using the same pre-cast panel technology. The 'commission towers' are popularly considered blights on the Melbourne cityscape, but successive governments have not been able to justify the expense of demolition.
The Commission was established by the Housing Act 1937 in response to slum housing in Melbourne, and operated under the Slum Reclamation and Housing Act 1938. The mission was 'slum abolition' driven by the zeal of Christian and other social reformers, but later became 'slum clearance' and 'block demolition'.
The Commission presided over the construction of the Melbourne Olympic Village in 1956, and made its mark on the Melbourne skyline during the 1960s in the form of high-rise blocks of flats on various sites around inner Melbourne, the largest of which being Lygon Street in Carlton and Atherton Gardens in Fitzroy. Approximately twenty of these precast concrete 20 to 30 storey height buildings were constructed around Melbourne, until the type of development fell into disrepute. By 1970 nearly 4000 privately owned dwellings had been compulsory acquired and replaced by nearly 7000 high rise flats.
Production then moved to low rise walk up and single dwelling units, with about 10,000 homes using locally engineered design and erection methods constructed using the technology. Public housing was also built in regional Victorian cities, such as Wangaratta, Wodonga and Geelong.
For a time in the 1980s, public housing in Victoria was managed by the Department of Planning and Housing. In the early 1990s, the Kennett government created the Office of Housing within the Department of Planning and Development. Public housing is now an office within the Department of Human Services.
In the midst of the economic conditions caused by the Great Depression, the overcrowded conditions in the inner suburban areas of Melbourne had created a 'housing crisis'. Oswald Barnett, active in campaigning against slums and his 'study group' led the Victorian Government to establish the Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board (HISAB) in July 1936, to investigate housing conditions in these areas. HISAB's 1937 report found 3,000 houses 'unfit for habitation' and recommended the establishment of the Housing Commission with John O’Connor the Commission's first chairman, while Oswald Barnett, Oswald Burt and Frances Penington were appointed as part-time commissioners. In the next few years, the Commission moved thousands from the slums to new housing, improving conditions but also encountering problems along the way.
The Housing Commission of Victoria was established under the Housing Act 1937 to improve existing housing conditions and to provide adequate housing for persons of limited means; the Slum Reclamation Act 1938 and the Reclamation and Housing (Financial) Act 1938 provided the framework for the Commission's work. On the passing of the legislation, the Victorian Premier, Albert Dunstan, declared the beginning of the Commission's activities as a 'war on slums', but also recognised the magnitude of the task before it. The legislation not only gave the Commission powers for housing construction and improvement, but also made it 'a planning authority in its own right'. The Commission's chief concerns however, were the 'slum pockets' which required 'excision' for the 'common good'. The Commission developed a plan of action in March 1938, concentrating its attention on 1,240 houses in lanes, rights-of-way and slum pockets, referred to in HISAB's earlier report. Slums were to be reclaimed and people rehoused.
To house the people moved from the slum areas, the Commission needed to provide new homes. The Commission's first estate was the Garden City development at Fisherman's Bend. Next was the development of flats at Pigdon Street, Carlton, though the original proposal for three storey flats was reduced to two storeys after local opposition. The Commission then began to acquire cheap land in the northern suburbs of Coburg, Brunswick, Preston and Northcote as well as in inner suburban areas such as North Melbourne, Fitzroy and Richmond. These estates and acquisitions were the first of many.
The Commission's acquisition plans were ambitious and it was bound to come across difficulties. The synchronisation of the 'demolition program' was proving difficult and by June 1940, only 53 families had moved into new houses while only 99 houses had been ordered for demolition. The Commission also had difficulties dealing with local municipalities, in acquiring properties in the North Melbourne reclamation area as well as with the labour movement, who believed that the government should subsidise loans to enable workers to buy homes rather than rent them. The rehousing of those from the slums was a difficult task.
As a landlord, the Commission also experienced problems. Tenants were initially reluctant to move, while rents on the estates were more expensive than in their former accommodation. At Fisherman's Bend, there was tension between tenants of the Commission's estate and those who had bought homes under an earlier housing program; vandalism was also a problem, both at Fisherman's Bend and in the West Brunswick estate. Frances Penington, who was also a social worker, advocated for community facilities to be built at the estates to alleviate some of these problems, these were built after protracted debate by others on the Commission. Transportation costs from the new estates to places of employment were also an issue. Despite these issues, residents 'adjusted to their new homes and locations' and appreciated the 'better home environment'.
By 1942, building had halted as the Commission shifted its focus to post-war planning. It continued to acquire land though, taking advantage of low prices by purchasing land in industrial areas in the western suburbs as well as in the middle class eastern and southern suburbs. The Commission, in its planning authority capacity had also drawn up plans for the future development of Melbourne but by 1944, it was lacking resources to deal with backlogs of council plans. The Commission recruited Frank Heath from its advisory Architects Panel to deal with these problems but it was stripped of its town planning powers later in the same year. The Commission's 1944 report found that housing was required in 'large numbers as quickly as possible to house those recently returned to civilian life and catch up on the lag of construction over the war years'. The era of slum reclamation was over.
While the Commission was planning for the future, so were its commissioners. Barnett and Burt published Housing the Australian Nation, reviewing the slum reclamation, but also putting forward their plans for a national housing policy. Barnett, Burt and Heath published We Must Go On calling for a fairer society and centralised planning. By now, housing for growing numbers was the main concern.
The Housing Commission achieved a lot in these early years. The Commission had reclaimed slums and provided housing for many in new estates. In doing this though, it also encountered difficulties. With the end of the war approaching, the increasing housing shortage as well as the large numbers returning from war meant that the Commission shifted its focus from reclaiming slums to become a housing provider.
There are 20 or 21 sites, spread across 14 suburbs in Melbourne that contain around 40–45 high rises in total. The largest sites contain 4 buildings each; Elizabeth St, Richmond, Atherton Gardens, Fitzroy and Racecourse Rd, Flemington. Other large sites contain 3 buildings; Boundary Rd, North Melbourne and Malvern Rd, South Yarra. The high-rise buildings vary between 20–30 storeys in height and come in a variety of shapes, when viewed from the air these appear as; S, T, Y, I, L and C-shape, the most common being the S-shape. The high-rises have become pop-culture icons, being synonymous with ambitious government projects and ideas that become compromised, and are used for various film and photographic work.
None of the audio/visual content is hosted on this site. All media is embedded from other sites such as GoogleVideo, Wikipedia, YouTube etc. Therefore, this site has no control over the copyright issues of the streaming media.
All issues concerning copyright violations should be aimed at the sites hosting the material. This site does not host any of the streaming media and the owner has not uploaded any of the material to the video hosting servers. Anyone can find the same content on Google Video or YouTube by themselves.
The owner of this site cannot know which documentaries are in public domain, which has been uploaded to e.g. YouTube by the owner and which has been uploaded without permission. The copyright owner must contact the source if he wants his material off the Internet completely.