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Housing is a basic right

On a chilly Saturday in August Housing NSW staged a Housing Expo in Redfern Park to help introduce its Preliminary Masterplan. The Redfern Waterloo Authority (now the Sydney Metropolitan Development Authority) was also involved in conjunction with the RedWater Markets writes the South Sydney Herald an editorial in their September 2011 issue.

Residents and tenants were invited to engage with redevelopment plans by way of various fun activities. Interactions aimed at identifying concerns relevant to living in Redfern-Waterloo, and included a “building block” exercise based on the BEP2 planning controls, a “hope tree” exercise with attachable “leaves” for ideas toward a “better future”, an “ideas box” and a street map to mark locations and regular movements within the neighbourhood.

This is positive in that it engages community interest in a complicated and long-term process. It gets people together, generates discussion and gathers input with regard to existing and emerging needs.

Some things could have been more clearly presented. Little was available to explain the government’s BEP2 plans. Of the approximately 1,300 public tenancies labelled “walkups” and “mid-rises” earmarked for redevelopment 700 will be moved out of Redfern-Waterloo (to sites within the LGA) at dates yet to be determined. The figures refer to tenancies or units, not to tenants. There are also plans for 500-600 new units of “infill” housing around the approximately 2,200 high-rise units slated for upgrade and refurbishment in BEP2. The population is set to double over 25 years with 60 per cent private to 40 per cent public dwellings being the final goal on existing public housing land.

As with certain “reality” renovation programs on commercial TV, catering mainly to middle-class desires, there is a sense in which expos and jargon-heavy consultations foster a developer’s mindset motivated by profit, as opposed to appreciation of the reality of tenants for whom Redfern-Waterloo is home.

It may also mask the ever-increasing need for public, supported and affordable housing throughout the city.

Housing, to put it bluntly, is not a game. It’s a basic human right. In saying this we acknowledge that Housing NSW has a hugely daunting task while ever the health and welfare responsibilities of other government departments and agencies are abrogated – and relegated to Housing.

Even a tenant involved in the consultations may well wonder: Is mine to be one of the 700 tenancies relocated? Will I still be close to my neighbours and friends? When will the promised renovations and refurbishments begin? How do I face and manage the seemingly overwhelming changes to come? Will I be able to afford basic goods and services in a newly gentrified neighbourhood? Will I still have easy access to the support agencies I rely on?

There are things that Housing NSW could improve now in order to build trust with tenants and to ease their anxieties, namely improvements to maintenance and management services. Leaky roofs, mould, poor disability access, electrical failures, damage to interiors and rubbish hazards are all too common. Tenants report interminable delays with responses to maintenance requests. Tenants also report high frustration with regard to tenancy placements, transfers and anti-social behaviour.

According to the Tenant Survey published by Housing NSW what tenants want most is improvement to service delivery. Any future redevelopments must take this into account and will not function well unless maintenance and management are made priorities – in theory and in practice. If this could happen tenants might be more inclined to engage with government on issues broader than the generation of funding for shiny new buildings.

The SSH commends the initiatives and ongoing efforts of groups such as RED Watch and Groundswell, as well as the Factory Community Centre in Waterloo and the Northcott Community Centre in Surry Hills, all of which offer access to information and opportunities for engagement with government and other services. Contact one of the local Groundswell Coalition agencies: www.groundswellcoalition.org.au

Source: September 2011 Edition of The South Sydney Herald