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Pemulwuy approval ends long housing struggle on The Block

The Independent Planning Commission has approved the Pemulwuy Project proposal for a 24 storey student housing building along the railway line adjacent to the already approved Pemulwuy Project including 62 Affordable Housing units on The Block in Redfern. The approval means that the Aboriginal Housing Company can now self-fund their Affordable Housing development.

The approval brings to an end a 30 years struggle over what will be built on The Block. The late 1980s and 1990s saw a number of proposals and the early 2000s saw the Government Architects’ Office working with the AHC on the Pemulwuy Project. That fell over when the Carr Government offered to only fund the project if the AHC signed over control of The Block. With the AHC refusing to relinquish control of The Block, the Government changed its position to no longer support Aboriginal housing on The Block. A struggle followed between the AHC and the then Redfern Waterloo Minister Frank Sartor to try to get approval for the housing company to build housing on their land on The Block. During the struggle the broad community and the great majority of the Aboriginal community supported the AHC. The Minister tried to halve the residential development permissible on The Block and increased the commercial allowance. When the AHC came up with a way around the proposed controls the Minister restricted the use of the controls to a precinct by precinct basis and finally granted 75% of the initial residential floor space. Across the railway line 18 storeys were permitted.

The AHC finally managed to get approval for a plan for 62 homes in 2009, but it was subsequently considered not viable by the AHC as it did not have an income generating component to make the project sustainable once built. A revised plan in 2012 included a proposal to include student housing that provided an income stream to subsidise the affordable housing. The plan was still dependent on finding funding to do the build. After exploring many options the AHC came to an agreement with a student housing provider that if they could get density on the student housing site similar to the buildings on the eastern side of the railway lines that they would pay the AHC upfront for a 99 year lease which would allow the 62 houses to be built. In the negotiations the AHC also achieved 110 subsidised places for Aboriginal students in the complex.

Initially the proposal was for a 16 storey building of student housing but the Department of Planning insisted on a design panel which argued that a better outcome would be achieved by a 24 storey building with a better stepped transition to the surrounding buildings. This is the building that has just been approved. Finally everything is in place for the AHC to build Pemulwuy’s 62 affordable housing units.

During this time, gentrification and rising rents have driven much of the Aboriginal community out of Redfern. Whatever happened on The Block it was never going to solve this problem. The need for Aboriginal Affordable Housing is reaching a critical point if there is to be a broad based Aboriginal community in Redfern and Waterloo in the future. Hopefully all those who have had an interest in getting Affordable Housing on The Block will now join the campaign to push the NSW government to provide dedicated Aboriginal Affordable Housing in Redfern and Waterloo in any redevelopment of government owned land – starting with the Waterloo Estate redevelopment.

Below are the links to the approval documents

This article originally ran in a REDWatch email update to members and supporters on 5 March 2019.