Over the past two decades, a number of Victorian governments have ‘wasted’ opportunities to address the state’s housing crisis by selling off surplus public land that could have been used for up to 11,000 public housing units, a new study reveals.

The study by RMIT University urban researchers shows about 578 hectares of Victorian public land parcels - equivalent to 228 Melbourne Cricket Grounds - were sold between 2000 and 2018.

With the state’s public housing waiting lists at a record high of 100,000 people and more expected to join that list as the impact of COVID-19 reverberates through the economy, project researcher Liam Davies said future governments must focus on using surplus public land for much-needed public housing.

“This pandemic has exposed what we have always known – that our housing system is leaving too many people behind,” Davies, a PhD researcher in the RMIT Centre for Urban Research, says.

“But in Victoria, successive governments over the past 20 years have been systematically selling public land.”

“Our research found about 80 percent of public land sold to the private sector could have been used to build more than 12,000 public housing units since 2000.”

“Right now, the government is preparing to sell nearly 24 hectares of land suitable for residential development in metropolitan Melbourne,” he says.

“At least 400 suburban houses could be built on these sites.”

The research found the areas that had the most potential for dwellings included Hobson’s Bay, Port Phillip, Wyndam and the City of Melbourne.

“These areas have good amenity such as public transport, open green spaces, schools and walkability,” Davies says.

“Using this land for public housing could have been enough to take nearly 25,000 people off the waiting list.”

Image: Commercial Rael Estate