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Walker Street Redfern First DoH Development

The article below by Pam Walker appeared in the Southern Courier Newspaper in 30th July 2002 and was the first residents of Walker and Elizabeth Street Redfern knew that their neighbourhood was planned to be the first of the DoH's privately financed redevelopments.

A $750 million backlog in public housing maintenance has the State Government wooing the private sector with a land for housing swap proposal.

The Minister for Housing, Andrew Refshauge, made the offer to a gathering of some 100 developers and financiers at a breakfast in the Governor Macquarie Tower on July 3. The policy, known as "Privately Financed Projects" (PFP) invites the private sector to invest in social housing infrastructure in Department of Housing (DoH) developments in Redfern, Randwick, Erskineville, Liverpool and Minto representing a combined value of $900 million.

Dr Refshauge indicated the private sector would only deal with asset management. "Tenancy management of public housing tenants will remain a responsibility of the Department of Housing," he said.

First cab off the rank will be the Walker Street, Redfern public housing estate with a masterplan now before South Sydney Council proposing the demolition of the existing 106 apartments to be replaced with 88 public residences and 158 private dwellings. The Randwick development for aged housing in St Paul's Street was ready to go 18 months ago but lack of finances derailed the project which has again been put out to tender.

The redevelopment of the Erskineville public housing estate is planned for 2004-2005.

All five estates will eventually be a mix of private and public housing, a DoH spokesman said.

"The deal is we get the public housing free of cost. The configurations at each site will be different but the philosophy of partnership with the private sector is the same," he said.

The $750 million maintenance backlog was arrived at after an audit and inspection of the DoH properties.

"We have agreed our houses should be at a certain standard. If we want to bring all our houses to that standard, that amount has to be spent."

DoH Waterloo tenant Ross Smith said the plan would reduce the quality of the public housing premises.

"You're putting the same number of tenants in half the area," Mr Smith said.

"It reduces the green space and common open areas. The masterplan lodged with South Sydney highlights the differences between private and social housing and they'll be facing each other off on opposite sides of the street.

"You're also destroying existing strong communities and removing people from their established support networks. These are people who've lived there for 30-40 years and they're set in their ways."

DoH executive director Mike Allen said tenants would have the option to return to the area and tenants would be moved for "several months to a bit more than a year".

"We've given a written undertaking to people that they can come back and we'll meet their relocation and re-establishment costs," Mr Allen said.

Mr Allen denied this was a case of asset-stripping or privatisation of public housing and said the land and buildings set aside for public housing would remain the property of the DoH.

"This approach will actually increase the value of our public assets because we'll finish up with more housing in configurations that better suit the needs of our clients," he said.

He also promised the PCYC on the site would remain and said its lease had just been renewed.

"This is something new but we need to respond in new and innovative ways to produce the housing we need with the monies made available to us by the Federal Government. It's a way of better using the assets we have."

South Sydney mayor John Fowler criticised the proposed density mix in the Redfern masterplan and said it would not solve the problem of dislocation between private and public housing.

"This does not represent a solution for bringing social harmony to Redfern and Waterloo. If you present a framework of outcomes to a developer you might end up with a better proposal than this put together by accountants in a bureaucracy and I don't think accountants should do town planning."