Housos Aren’t All Dole Bludgers. I Know – I Was One.


The O’Farrell state government has announced their plans for the eviction of Miller’s Point public housing residents. They say it’s to cut escalating maintenance cuts.

As with any announcement that involves public housing comes the claims that the residents are lazy slackos who’re rorting the system. Housos have been tainted with this same brush for donkey’s years, especially on talkback radio.

But here’s the thing: I was a Houso.

Mum and I moved into a small public housing unit when I was 13, five years after dad died and we lost our primary income earner. We were on the public housing waitlist for five years and we rented a unit for those five years where I had to share a bedroom with mum. Finally moving into public housing where I had my own bedroom was like winning the lottery. We finally had some security and knew that Mum would live there for many years to come. Mum felt so lucky to have a place to reduce the financial burden but was a very proud lady and didn’t like to let the cat out of the bag about our landlord. I didn’t understand for a few years about the stigma associated with living in public housing, but once I discovered it, it wasn’t easy to ignore. There were assumptions made about our need for public housing and the need of our neighbours for public housing. It was like being called a dole-bludger and it felt really really shit.

Yes, public housing areas can be unsafe. There were plenty of nights where I would call the cops because I saw someone outside my bedroom window with a knife or heard someone drunk and screaming until all hours of the night.

I moved out of home when I was 23 and for a long time was embarrassed to admit my Houso history. I learned to be proud and more outspoken about how desperately we needed an affordable place to live. Because without public housing, we would have been living on the street. It wasn’t an easy lifestyle to live next door to junkies, hoarders, drunkards and the odd calm person. But it’s assumed that it is.

This is the part that’s not being covered in the news this week about Miller’s Point. There are too many references to the so-called bludgers living it up right next to Sydney Harbour. As with any stereotype, there are only a small percentage ruining the reputation for the rest.

The majority of the people being affected by the O’Farrell government’s Big Plan have struggled financially through life for a multitude of reasons and are very lucky to have lived in a country where public housing exists. These Millers Point residents are going to be losing their home, their community and have to pack up their lives. Moving home is incredibly stressful and when you’re in your senior years it’s also a risk factor in bringing on dementia.

But the O’Farrell Government doesn’t give a damn about any of that.

What are your thoughts on public housing?


  • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

    Fascinating piece. I know it makes me sound like a snob, but I’ve never met anyone who has lived in housing commission before, well, not who has told me about it. I don’t even know how you qualify for it. I wouldn’t be comfortable with it being taken away. I’m sure the Milson’s Point location is very valuable for the government but I kind of feel like it’s a bit late to be taking it away. Are they intending to relocate the inhabitants in other lodgings? And cover relocation costs?

    • Monique Fischle

      If I knew for sure that they were rehousing the people who will lose their homes and cover the costs, I wouldn’t be as bothered by what is happening. When I have watched Pru Goward be interviewed about it, when asked directly if the money the government would gain from the sale would be put back into more housing, she skirts around the question and answers it without really answering the question. That bothers me.

      • Kris

        I wrote on The Project’s facebook story about this that it was cute that people think they’re going to use the cash to build awesome new places (on the city fringe, in nice poor person ghettoes, where they should be!). I wouldn’t believe a Labor government would do it, let alone a Liberal government, let alone Pru bloody Goward.

        • Monique Fischle

          I wouldn’t believe any government would.

          • Kris

            The other thing is that people are all “They should have to work for their million dollar views” because it’s at North Sydney. Quite a few pointed out that many of the people who have the cash for a place on the harbour inherited it and have daddy’s clever accountant to thank for it.

            People don’t seem to realise that the whole reason they put housing commission places in all kinds of different suburbs rather than concentrating them in what become ghettos is that it gives people something to aspire to – if everyone around you is leaving for work every morning, and the kids are going to school with kids who have parents who work and so on, there’s a societal flow on effect in that most people don’t want to be the odd ones out. That’s why they do it. And why they don’t build places like the towers at Redfern or Riverwood, or suburbs like Bradbury where everyone is in the same boat, so it’s OK to not aspire to anything else, because it doesn’t get seen. And they are also really poorly serviced infrastructure wise too – they’ll plonk a school there, but no bus services, no shops etc.

          • http://www.rainbowtatt.com/ Rah!

            Here here! Excellent points Kris!

      • http://www.rainbowtatt.com/ Rah!

        Bothers me too Monique, and makes me very stabby. Tea drinking has increased in my house

    • Kris

      One day a few years ago, I was driving through the area we grew up in with my brother (as he is wont to do, has a bit of a reminisce) and he said “You know, I bet heaps of kids at school lived in housoes, we just didn’t know about it”. Pretty right, I’d say. I knew a few friends who were in them, but it wasn’t a big deal.

  • http://www.singularinsanity.com/ Dorothy

    My family lived in public housing for a few years after arriving in Australia. It was horrible, but it put a roof over our heads and I had my own room. I’m not ashamed of it and am looking at applying for public housing myself now, as I seem unable to find a job.

    • http://www.rainbowtatt.com/ Rah!

      When you need to compared the pros and cons of affordability and risk public housing, it’s an incredibly tough choice to make. Good luck with it Dorothy x

  • Cybele @ BlahBlah

    Lady Rah, You’re a legend. I still find it shocking how long the wait list is. Five years seems like a ridiculously long time for a family to wait. Awesome piece x

    • Kris

      I’m on the waiting list, as I’m a single Mum with a toddler. I got calls asking me if I still want to be on the waiting list a couple of weeks ago. On balance, I think I’m going to take my name off it. We’re lucky enough to be able to live with my Mum, and I struggle enough with money now, let alone paying to run a place on my own with utilities and stuff to cover. When I applied a bit over three years ago, it was with the knowledge that I’ll likely be finished my uni degree and working enough to be able to rent, if not even have a deposit saved before I got offered a public housing spot.

      I also on balance would rather (and I think Mum probably would too) stay with Mum for another couple of years than have a little kid around the housoes around here, as Rah said in her article, calling the cops because there is a fight with knives or junkies leaving needles around. There was an article in the paper here (Wollongong) not that long ago about a Mum in housoes who was finding used needles, fights, drug dealing happening, and they wouldn’t move her. I don’t think I could handle that, and I don’t think anyone should have to.

      • http://www.rainbowtatt.com/ Rah!

        Kris, that’s awful. I used to wonder if dispersing the housing would help so that there aren’t “houso ghettos”. But difficult in blocks of units (I was in a block of 24).
        Problem is that when you’re offered a place, you can’t knock it back because of those sorts of concerns. It’s far from a perfect system :(

        • Kris

          I had friends who lived in the housoes at Riverwood, and they were OK, but they had a pretty decent community as well, so people looked out for each other. Again though, not really somewhere for little kids. All sorts of crazy shit used to happen there.

          And yeah, I’ve decided to take us off the waiting list because if I do knock back a dodgy joint (which down here is pretty much what I’d be offered) I’ll be back to the start of the waiting list anyway. I wonder how many people are like me, just not even bothering anymore while they live with family or friends?

        • Faybian

          I lived in what was dispersed public housing in Melbourne when I was a single mother. It was an ordinary neighbourhood with the odd govt house put in there and it was lovely. I stayed there until we moved interstate after I graduated uni. We lived 15 minutes away from a standard public housing suburb and there was no comparison. I think dispersed public housing is much better. You don’t concentrate people with a higher risk of social problems in one area.

      • Kris

        This is a follow-on of the article I mentioned above. The poor chick is still stuck in the same place. http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/2182898/mums-hell-living-with-junkies-hookers-and-crims/?cs=12

        There are links in the story to one of the academics from uni and a report from one of the writers of the Mercury and her observations.

    • http://www.rainbowtatt.com/ Rah!

      Thank you my sweets xoxo

  • becco

    In Canberra there is public housing in just about every suburb. I think it has worked out really well. Sure, it’s not problem free but I have never felt unsafe. It also means that there aren’t really rich and poor suburbs, because there are all types of people in every suburb, with a few exceptions. And apart from the usual banter about northside vs southside, no one gives a crap about what suburb you live in (or what school you went to for that matter) – a refreshing change from the Sydney culture I grew up in.