Victorian governments that have sold public lands to the private sector may opt in the future to expand their endeavours to construct public housing and help resolve the state’s housing problem, according to research indicated in a study conducted by urban researchers.

The RMIT University study discovered that from 2000 to 2018, 578 hectares of Victorian public land pieces had been sold, which encompassed sufficient suitable land to accommodate 12,000 public housing units.

A recorded 100,000 people occupy Victoria’s public housing waiting list, and project researcher Liam Davies says that the list will lengthen as the impact of COVID-19 is felt across the economy.

He points out the fact that land price is a prime factor of housing, so it would stand to reason that the most cost-effective manner of providing public housing is to construct homes on government-owned land. In Victoria, successive governments over the past two decades have been selling public land on a systematic fashion.

These figures arise from the initial findings of a study exploring the sale of government land by Professor Libby Porter, Roland Postma and Liam Davies, to be made public at the end of this year.

The writers highlight the fact that the government is getting ready to sell a parcel of land across Melbourne, and in other city centres like Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong. Davies stated that almost 24 hectares of land reserved for sale in metropolitan Melbourne is well suited for residential development, such as in regions with accessibility to public transport, open greenspaces and educational institutions like the municipalities of Hobson’s Bay, Port Phillip, Wyndam and the City of Melbourne council. They say that at least 400 suburban houses could be constructed on these land sites—thus possibly providing housing to almost 25,000 people from the waiting list.

The 2019/20 state budget featured $209 million to construct 1,000 new public housing units within three years in Geelong and Ballarat, and in the Darebin, Maribyrnong, Stonnington and Whitehorse council areas in Melbourne.

Davies asserts that the construction of additional public housing could boost the construction sector and the weak economy.

The government has revealed that the building sector will stand at the centre of the economic rebuild, with a government taskforce established to oversee the building—one that should advise the government regarding stimulus measures to elevate social housing. The government has yet to announce allocations for public housing spending.

Davies said that now is the time for the Victorian Government to support the building industry—and the people that we most need to benefit through building.