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REDWatch Discussion Paper on Public Housing Redevelopment

REDWatch's Discussion Paper of 23 August 2010 discusses a recent HNSW meeting “Hava Cuppa with a Designa” and raises some key questions about the future of Redfern & Waterloo public housing and ask: is “Social Mix” a mantra or a resourced solution? The paper aims to encourage discussion about the planning for the coming redevelopment of Redfern & Waterloo public housing.

Planning for the Redevelopment of Redfern & Waterloo Public Housing –

Some of the questions for discussion.

HNSW’s “Hava Cuppa with a Designa” on 11th August 2010 raised some key questions about HNSW’s Preliminary* Master Planning options for the redevelopment of Redfern and Waterloo public housing.

Below we provide some background on the session with the ‘designas’, raise some key questions about the future of Redfern & Waterloo public housing and ask: is “Social Mix” a mantra or a resourced solution?

The Session with the “Designas”

“Hava Cuppa with a Designa” was chaired by ex-NSW Government Architect and ex-Central Sydney Planning Committee member Chris Johnson. Chris Johnson has also held senior positions in the Department of Planning from 2005-9 during Frank Sartor’s time as Minister for Planning & Redfern Waterloo. He worked on planning for CUB site and sat during that period on the RWA’s Built Environment Ministerial Advisory Committee. Chris Johnson is now doing work for HNSW on the Preliminary Master Plan for the redevelopment of public housing in Redfern and Waterloo.

The hour long “Cuppa” session at 9am was promoted around Jan Gehl who has worked on the City of Sydney 2030 strategy, however Gehl’s well-known focus on pedestrian movement was not discussed in this brief session. Gehl had arrived in the country the night before, had a 10am appointment and did not appear to be across the Redfern Waterloo public housing situation. His brief input was quite general, and when asked about the results of social mix projects in Sweden, Gehl promised to look at the issues when he got home and send across some papers.

The second half of the session had input from “Designas” working on the CUB site - both on the main park and the hanging gardens building of French designer Ateliers’ Jean Nouvel. The level of input from these “designas” was also quite cursory. Overall there was dissatisfaction with the way the session was conducted and how some questions were handled.

The aim of the session was not clear. Was it to provide cameos from experts to spark discussion? If so, how it was being recorded and what did HNSW or the community get from it? Are these people already working on the Preliminary Master Plan project? If so, in what capacity and who else has been engaged? So far the community have not been given this information. When it is available, then there should also be discussion about how to properly consult with the community.

Despite prolonged conversations with the community about “consultation” by HNSW and the RWA, the promised framework for community engagement and consultation has still not been made public (let alone it being publicly assessed). Yet events like this are being rolled out presumably as part of this framework.

As the first step in establishing dialogue between the community and the Government, HNSW and the RWA need to come back to the community with their proposed community engagement strategy.

Despite the shortcomings and concerns about the ‘designa” session, the questions and responses from HNSW raised some broader issues that the community needs to consider.

Key Questions about the future of Redfern & Waterloo Public Housing

It is plain that the walk ups will be the main focus of the redevelopment. However it appears that HNSW may include some renovation of the existing high rise as part of the proposed redevelopment.

The draft planning controls and the parameters for the Preliminary Master Plan have not been revealed to the community so currently we only have glimpses at sessions like the “designa” of what is being considered. The RWA’s earlier BEP only provides the Government broad commitments that “there will be no cuts to the amount of public housing; current residents will not be disadvantaged; all public tenancies are secure”

There was discussion at the “designa” session about how to improve the appearance, functioning and foyers of the high rise public housing buildings the Government will retain in Redfern and Waterloo.

This opens up the question: who is going to live in the high rises? To use HNSW’s favourite term, how will “social mix” be applied to these buildings?

The meeting provided no clarification of a HNSW position.

When asked if HNSW proposes to have private owners as well as public tenants in these buildings, Bernie Coates from HNSW thought this was a possibility. Chris Johnson on the other hand disagreed. Johnson said that some buildings might be all private and some all public, but you would not “mix” within the same building. Johnson thought some of the Waterloo high rise might be suitable for private housing.

Given that around half of public tenants in Redfern and Waterloo live in the high rises, a key question is whether the high rises stay as all public housing or will the Government’s “social mix” mantra# see the high rises split between public and private tenants in a similar proportion as is being proposed for the whole development.

The Government has not yet revealed its latest planned mix for private and public tenants.

Approximately two-thirds private and one third public was the proportion used by the Government in the leaked 2004 version of what was planned in the redevelopment (www.smh.com.au/news/Redfern-plan/Towers-demolished-as-aid-to-social-levelling/2004/11/28/1101577354910.html).

For this paper we have used this 2/3 figure. This would mean two new private residents coming on to current public housing land for each existing public tenant.

The issue of where these new people will go raises some important questions for the high rises. These include:

  • If two thirds of the high rises are to be sold off for private housing, then what will HNSW need to do to make these units attractive to buy on the private market?
  • If public and private tenancies are mixed within a building, how will the necessary strata titles be created and how will the Owners Corporations be governed - if HNSW or a designated housing provider controls a large proportion of the strata units, will people buy into a renovated high rise?
  • If some buildings are only for private tenants, does this mean the best of the buildings will become private and the least saleable remain public housing?
  • Will only the buildings being sold for the private market be renovated?
  • If all high rise are to be renovated, will the renovations for the public housing be to the same standard as what will be necessary to attract buyers from the private housing market?
  • If HNSW decides to keep the high rise buildings primarily for public housing, then where are the supposed benefits of the much touted “social mix” within these large high-rise communities?
  • What will happen 50 years down the track when the high rise buildings themselves need to be replaced if they remain all public housing - as part of trying to provide improved “social mix” or its then equivalent, will 2/3 of the public tenants then living in the high rise be moved out of a desirable inner city location?

These questions mean both that long term planning for the high rises need to be included in the Preliminary Master Plan and that as part of the initial redevelopment HNSW needs to clarify what is envisaged for the high rise renovation and tenancies in the short term.

If any increase in density within the high rises is excluded, then to achieve a 2/3 private 1/3 public mix across the entire estate together with the 200% density increase envisaged, the density within the walk up redevelopment area would increase to five times its current levels.

Chris Johnson said at the “Designa” forum that final density would not be high and would work out to a bit over a 2:1 floor space ratio (i.e. floor space double the land area).

What was not made clear was if this is just over the walk ups or if this is across the entire site (the high rise, walk ups and green spaces like Waterloo Green). The RWA planning controls for North Eveleigh for example calculated allowable floor space across the entire site including potential roads and green spaces thus making the figure lower than it would have been if just calculated over the buildable area like was used in calculating the floor space allowed on The Block.

Answers to questions at the forum indicated that the amount of green space and particularly green space per capita will decline.

All this raises what must be a very tempting possibility for a cash strapped government.

If HNSW were to decide to keep the existing high rise for public tenants, then all the private housing would have to be in the redevelopment of the walk up area.

If this happens, then only brand new housing would be sold on to private owners and investors. In addition only 1 in 5 of the properties in that area would be public housing (not 1 in 3 as would be the case if the private property was spread uniformly).

The downside is that only half the area’s public housing stock would have been renewed and this problem would have to be revisited at the end of the life of the high rise buildings in 50-60 years.

Could a NSW Government of any complexion resist the temptation to maximise the immediate financial return from the redevelopment and defer half of the public housing stock problem and its related cost to a future government?

If the NSW Government is serious about renewing public housing stock, then it has to ensure that the redevelopment results in at least 2/3 of its post redevelopment housing stock being new. Otherwise the development will only achieve a partial stock renewal (and potentially a windfall to the Government by the redevelopment of public housing land for private ownership).

The decision about what happens with the existing high rise public housing is pivotal in determining the outcome for the redevelopment of the walk up part of the Redfern and Waterloo estates.

The other component that should also come into play is affordable housing.

In the last five years all discussion about affordable housing has been within the RWA. An affordable housing policy document is still not publicly available and there is only a policy for collecting contributions. The only guide is the recent NSW government Affordable rental housing policy at http://planning.nsw.gov.au/PlansforAction/Affordablerentalhousing/tabid/313/language/en-US/Default.aspx.

As affordable housing is about providing accommodation at below market rates there are issues of building cost and management by non-government housing providers. Affordable housing may be used as a buffer between public tenant housing and the private market as a component of the “social mix”. Federal support will likely be needed to make a significant contribution.

“Social Mix” – Mantra or a Resourced Solution?

David Lilley who is handling research for HNSW has argued that “social mix” is federal and state government policy which must be taken as given. He argues that the only questions on the table are how it is achieved and how problems evident in implementation at other sites can be avoided.

However, when the Government talks about “social mix”, it seems to assume it is always a good thing and that it will automatically happen without significant additional resources. Without resources to support such a policy, it will just be dilution – making things look better by just changing the demographic mix rather than addressing the underlying problems.

We need to ask Government and HNSW about their underlying commitment to “social mix”:

  • Is the Government prepared to fund and deliver the integrated human services necessary to service the diverse and often multiple needs of the people the Government concentrates in public housing, so that HNSW tenants have their needs met and do not impact adversely on either their public or private neighbours?
  • Is the Government prepared to fund programmes to help re-establish the community they plan to dislocate with the redevelopment?
  • Is the Government prepared to support extra services to recent refugees and other groups that benefit from living in close proximity if this self-support is impacted by a change in “mix”.
  • Is the Government prepared to fund the building of new “social capital” for this new community in which 2/3s will be new private arrivals who may have no great desire to mix with others -especially public tenants?
  • Is the Government prepared to fund all that would be necessary to make real the promise of “social mix” for public as well as private tenants?

If there are insufficient resources to address the complex problems of the high needs tenants allocated to the area or to address the upheaval of the existing community as a result of the redevelopment or for the creation of a new community that integrates with the old, then how will the supposed “social mix” benefits be delivered?

Dilution has already been erroneously used to indicate progress in human service delivery to the area. In the RWA Human Service Plan birth weights in Waterloo were used as an indicator to show success in pre-natal programmes but the evaluation didn’t factor in changes that occurred over the study period due to the redevelopment of old industrial sites in the area. Birth weights went up due to demographic change irrespective of what might or might not have happened in human service delivery.

Similarly putting more middle class children into the area’s schools can lead to schools losing targeted funding and so that programs for disadvantaged children in those schools are worse off rather than better off – an issue Darlington school has been struggling with for many years.

On average the postcode statistics look better but these numbers only mask community problems that have not been dealt with – let alone resolved.

Are the Government and HNSW serious about providing the funding necessary to make “social mix” work?

There was concern at the “cuppa” when doubt was cast by HNSW on the likelihood that the Government would be able to provide the level of human services funding necessary.

If the Government cannot fund public housing maintenance or human services support for its existing high needs tenants, on what basis is it expected that the Government will then fund the additional resources necessary to address the problems identified in research elsewhere that need to be addressed? Will the much touted “social mix” achieve its promised goals?

The “social mix” research that HNSW is currently championing needs to be treated with great caution. Some of the problems were dealt with at the recent Shelter conference and see also some summaries and papers at www.redwatch.org.au/issues/public-housing/redevelopment/mix.

The key questions we need to ask are:

  • Does the research quoted mirror or apply to what is proposed in Redfern and Waterloo?
  • What would need to be done to address the problems identified in studies of other places where “social mix” did not deliver the desired outcomes?
  • What extra must be done to take into account our specific context that may not have been encountered in the research quoted? – e.g. differences in human services system, high needs support mechanisms, make up of public tenants, allocations policy, interaction of employment and tenure policies, ability to perform maintenance and maintain safe public domain
  • What are the resource implications and is there the political will to deliver the resources needed?

There is a potentially big difference between the “social mix” consequences of moving relatively small numbers of disadvantaged people into established middle class areas as covered in some of the research and the redevelopment of an area in which you import large numbers of middle class owners and renters into the existing public housing areas of Redfern and Waterloo.

REDWatch has long expressed the view that redevelopment of the area without ensuring the human services issues are addressed may well result in worse social problems rather than an improvement. We are still waiting to see a serious government response on this issue.

In the current absence of adequate human services delivery to public tenants there is no reason to believe that the additional resources that would be necessary to deliver the benefits of “social mix” would actually be forthcoming from the Government.

Without a resource commitment in these two areas the current Government and HNSW “social mix” mantra should be seen as simply spin for diluting the per capita concentration of public housing in Redfern Waterloo. It cannot deliver what it proposes without a proper commitment of resources.

These are some of the important questions raised by having a Cuppa with HNSW’s “Designas”. It is important they be discussed further within the Redfern Waterloo community and in future discussions with HNSW and the RWA about the redevelopment of the public housing estates of the area. 


* Housing NSW’s Redfern and Waterloo Updates on the “Commonwealth funds to plan renewal in Redfern and Waterloo” use the term Preliminary Master Plan. The document says “After a preliminary master plan is completed, there will be further design work, expert studies and financial modelling to get a final master plan”. HNSW advised the RWA Built Environment Ministerial Advisory Committee on 17 August 2010 that this was because not all funding requested from the Federal Government had been received. At the same meeting the RWA advised that the BEP2 New Planning Controls were ready to go to the RWA Board and then to Minister. As soon as it had Ministerial approval BEP2 would be exhibited. The RWA Planning controls will set the framework for the Preliminary Master Plan.

# Ronald van Kempen and Gideon Bolt in their paper “Social cohesion, social mix, and urban policies in the Netherlands” 2009 use the term mantra in relation to the Netherlands when they say “Why social mix is a ‘‘good thing’’ is in many instances not clear. Social mix has become a kind of mantra and policy-makers seem averse to questioning it.

This discussion paper has been prepared for REDWatch by Geoffrey Turnbull. The numerous contributions, suggestions and edits from public tenants and REDWatch members are gratefully acknowledged. 23 August 2010 

Responses to this paper can be found at:

RWA Response to REDWatch Discussion Paper on Planning for the Redevelopment of Redfern & Waterloo Public Housing