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Tenants Union Blog response

The Tenants' Union of NSW's social housing estate redevelopment and portfolio renewal blog the Clearing House reported the anouncement of the Waterloo redevelopment and raised a number of concerns.

Major redevelopment of Waterloo

The NSW government has announced an extensive redevelopment of the inner city suburb of Waterloo. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, a total of 10,000 new dwellings, accommodating 30,000 new residents, will be built over a period of 20 years. The project will be centred around a new railway station - part of the 'Sydney Metro' line that will link southwest Sydney through to Bankstown with northwest Sydney through to Rouse Hill. It will form part of the wider 'Communities Plus' project. 


Matavai and Turanga towers, Waterloo

The Herald story states that new dwellings will initially be built on a State-owned, 13 hectare site, held principally by NSW Land and Housing Corporation. The final redevelopment will cover 40 hectares. According to The Daily Telegraph, the 30-storey Turanga and Matavai towers on Phillip Street, and surrounding, lower-density public housing apartments, will be demolished as part of the redevelopment. This will require the relocation of approximately 2000 public housing tenants over the life of the project.

The Government has said that one third of the 10,000 new dwellings will be social and affordable housing, with the remainder for the private market. Premier Mike Baird told the Herald that there will be no loss in the number of social housing dwellings in the suburb from current numbers. The Premier did not speak on whether the social housing dwellings built to replace current stock will also contain the same number of bedrooms. 

On the subject of relocations, the Premier said, "Every single [affected] tenant will have the right to come back". This comment was echoed by Social Housing Minister Brad Hazzard. A letter sent to public housing tenants in Waterloo from the Minister, dated 16 December 2015, states, "I want to assure you that tenants who live at Waterloo can remain in Waterloo after the redevelopment. While some tenants may need to relocate on an interim basis into other housing in the local area, many will be able to move directly into the new social housing as the site is redeveloped."

The Telegraph states that relocations from public housing blocks marked for demolition are expected to commence in 2017, with construction to begin in 2018. According to a Transport for NSW statement , the precise location of the centrepiece railway station has not yet been determined. The station is not due to open until 2036. 

Our concerns

On the information available, the Waterloo redevelopment appears to be of substantially similar form to the Macquarie Park UAP, the smaller 'Communities Plus' developments, and the development on Cowper Street, Glebe. All involve the demolition of tenanted public housing blocks for larger mixed residential apartments, and thus the relocation of many households. 

Relocations are inherently painful experiences for those affected. FACS claims its staff are experienced in assisting tenants through relocation processes, having learnt much from earlier renewal projects. But testimonial from places such as Millers Point, Claymore, and Bonnyrigg give a different perspective. Independent research into the impact of relocation - and what specifically helped long-term tenants adjust to new homes, neighbourhoods and communities - should be commissioned and considered before proceeding with any projects involving the renewal or disposal of currently tenanted stock. We support the Minister's claim that tenants will be able to remain in the Waterloo area and believe it is important that this is adhered to. In this regard, we believe it is important that FACS formalises clear policies and processes concerning management of relocations. This did not happen in the aforementioned relocations. 

The stated timeframe for the project is also extremely tight; the Government intends to commence construction in just over two years. This is concerning as it indicates that tenants may be compelled to relocate to unsuitable properties to facilitate construction.

Finally, given this development will be incorporated into the Communities Plus program, we also maintain the same concerns regarding loss of independence for social housing tenants as for other Communities Plus sites. Concepts such as 'mutual obligation', and burdensome tenancy management, further enmesh social housing tenants in the welfare system. Support services should of course be available to social housing tenants - not least in a period of relocations - but not mandated as a condition of tenure. Furthermore, the expectation that tenants eligible for social housing should promptly resolve their need for assistance and exit into an expensive and insecure private rental market is both unrealistic and cruel.

Source:  The Tenants' Union of NSW's social housing estate redevelopment and portfolio renewal blog - The Clearing House - Major redevelopment of Waterloo