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Action for Public Housing condemns Waterloo decision

Below is the text of the media release issued by Action for Public Housing, a grassroots collective of tenants and supporters who organise to defend and extend public housing, in response to the revised targets for the Waterloo South public housing redevelopment.

Tenants and activists condemn Minns Government’s decision to demolish the Waterloo public housing estate

Action for Public Housing condemns the Minns Government’s decision to demolish and redevelop Waterloo South, following today’s announcement from Minister for Housing and Homelessness Rose Jackson.

The Minns Government’s changes to the plan for Waterloo South are completely inadequate. It adds a pathetic 53 additional social homes and 373 ‘affordable’ homes. They are simply rehashing the Coalition Government’s original promise that 30% of the redevelopment would be social housing. Social housing is not an assurance of public housing but includes community housing, which often have different tenancy rules to public housing. ‘Affordable housing’ is often inaccessible for low income earners, leased at 80% of market rates, and often only for 15 years before it can be sold or leased on the market. In Waterloo, a two-bedroom ‘affordable’ apartment could be leased for $776 per week, according to the latest rental bond lodgements.

This plan will force nearly 1000 tenants to relocate and will demolish 749 homes. It is not clear how the government expects to keep tenants within their community, given the shortage of public housing. Processes of forced relocation and displacement are proven to cause trauma and mental and physical ill health. Claims of a right of return are mere political rhetoric when the development is expected to take ten years or more.

The demolition of tenants’ homes will result in a net loss to the public housing stock for ten years or more, further delaying housing for households on the waiting list. The latest figures indicate there are 1,125 households on the waiting list in the inner-city allocation zone.

NSW Labor was rightly critical of the Liberal-National Government’s track record on public housing, which saw 7628 homes sold for $3.5 billion. The Premier’s May announcement of a freeze on the privatisation of public housing was welcomed by public housing tenants and supporters. That announcement followed a motion endorsed by delegates at the 2022 NSW Labor Conference calling on the party to place a moratorium on the privatisation of public housing “including the sale, outsourcing, or leasing of any public housing assets or services.”

Waterloo tenants also welcomed the election campaign commitment from their local MP, Member for Heffron Ron Hoenig, that a Labor government would “stop the sell-off of the Waterloo Public Housing Estate and protect your home”.

The decision to demolish Waterloo South so that 1500 private homes and 1500 ‘social and affordable’ homes can be built is a betrayal of these commitments. However they spin it, the fact is the Minns Government is privatising public housing. They are selling an existing public housing estate, predominantly for new private housing, and outsourcing the management of social housing to charities and NGOs.

If the Minns Government is serious about responding to the housing crisis, they must preserve existing public housing and add to the public housing stock by buying it and building it on surplus public land – not by displacing communities and destroying their homes.

Comments attributable to Action for Public Housing member and Waterloo South resident Karyn Brown:

“Demolishing homes is no way to deal with a housing crisis, it's like trying to stop a flood with a firehose. It will give Sydney yet another vacant block of land, of which there are many. While the cost of construction supplies are high and there is a shortage of labour , resources should go towards building public housing on existing  land and refurbishing existing public buildings to make them into decent homes for the thousands on the waiting list.

“Tenants, NGOs, students, government agencies and many volunteers have worked for decades to make the largest public housing estate in the country a secure and welcoming place for some of our most vulnerable citizens. Rather than breaking  up the community and dispersing it amongst the assorted private landlords that community housing providers are, it should be retained as 100% public housing, and the community supported to continue living here.

“The destruction of perfectly good homes is environmentally unsound, they should be retained and refurbished to have the longest life possible. We have done away with disposable shopping bags, it is time we stopped seeing people's homes as disposable.”

Comments attributable to Action for Public Housing member and Macquarie School of Social Sciences researcher Dr Alistair Sisson

“The Minns Government has barely improved the plan for Waterloo South. Projects like this one are hugely detrimental in the context of 55,000 households on the waiting list and negligible growth in the public housing stock. Those 55,000 households need public housing now, not in ten years time when redevelopment might finally have a net positive effect on the number of homes. They will be waiting longer as a result of the Minns Government’s decision to proceed with the redevelopment of Waterloo South.

“The homes in Waterloo South are decent quality; there has never been a condition assessment to prove that they are inadequate or beyond repair. A better approach would be to refurbish the homes in Waterloo South, acquire new homes and build new public housing on sites like North Eveleigh, which are being redeveloped by the NSW Government without a single public housing dwelling. This is the only way that they can start to make significant headway with the public housing waiting list.”

Action for Public Housing is a grassroots collective of tenants and supporters who organise to defend and extend public housing.

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