Condemned Parkville youth justice centre ‘should become affordable housing’

New youth detention centre for Victoria
The Andrews government will build the centre in Werribee South after repeated warnings about overcrowding at the Malmsbury and Parkville facilities. (Video courtesy: Seven News Melbourne)

The trouble-plagued Parkville youth justice centre should be transformed into public and social housing to address Victoria’s extreme housing affordability crisis, advocates say.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced this week that a $288 million juvenile prison will be built in Werribee South by 2020, with the government currently considering “the next steps” for the Parkville facility, which won’t be retrofitted.

A review last month into the Parkville site found it “uninhabitable” and more suitable for residential purposes rather than as a prison. It will continue to operate while the Werribee prison is built.

Housing affordability advocates are set to call on the government to turn the youth justice centre into affordable housing.

Photo: Wayne Taylor

Multiple affordable housing advocacy groups will soon write to the state government to suggest the complex is transformed into community housing.

The government-owned land in Parkville provides an opportunity for the government to address the affordable housing crisis in Victoria, Community Housing Federation of Victoria policy director Steve Staikos says.

“It’s a prime piece of real estate, in a very well located area close to services, jobs and all sorts of different positive attributes,” Mr Staikos said. “If the government does decide to decommission it, our view and the view of community housing providers would be that it’s a good idea to partner with our sector and deliver social and affordable housing on site.”

Youths protesting on the roof of the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre at Parkville in March last year.

Launch Housing CEO Tony Keenan said action needed to be taken now to begin to address the crisis in Victoria.

“Any scarce government land should be used to address the current housing affordability crisis,” Mr Keenan said.. “It took us 30 years to get here and it might take 30 years to get out of it, so any opportunity for government land to become affordable housing shouldn’t be passed up on.”

Mr Staikos said the large site could be developed with a mix of social and private housing.

“If they go with community housing and engage with our sector they’ll be able to deliver affordable housing outcomes on the site without a huge financial investment,” he said.

But Dr Andrea Sharam, a senior lecturer in property, construction and project management at RMIT University, said there were already several areas of public land suitable for public housing, and keeping youth justice facilities close to Melbourne and accessible for families was also crucial.

“There’s an overwhelming need for affordable and social housing in Victoria and it does need to be well located, so I fully understand what peak bodies are saying,” Sharam said. “But there are substantial amounts of other public land that is very suitable for public housing, but limited amounts of public land for youth prisons. We need to balance those two needs out.”

The need for public housing in Victoria was “extreme”, Staikos said.

“It’s not just people who are sleeping rough in the CBD, there is a long waiting list for public and community housing,” he said. “This is a great opportunity – any parcel of land is a great opportunity – and because the government owns this land they can really set the parameters for what happens there. We’ll jump at any opportunity we can have to work with the government to help increase the supply of social and affordable housing.”

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