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Redfern & Waterloo public housing – many plans & questions

In August 2010, REDWatch produced the discussion paper, Planning for the Redevelopment of Redfern & Waterloo Public Housing. REDWatch has also been adding background material about relevant issues to its website under the Public Housing tab. All this is in preparation for the expected consultations about the future shape of the Redfern & Waterloo public housing estates. REDWatch’s spokesperson, Geoff Turnbull, explores some of the issues for the South Sydney Herald in their December 2010 issue.

Leaked cabinet documents in 2004 foreshadowed the NSW Government’s interest in redeveloping the area’s public housing estates. In 2006 the RWA announced that planning for this would be done as part of its Built Environment Plan 2 (BEP2). In the same year Sydney Council developed and exhibited its own draft planning controls, now awaiting exhibition as part of Council’s new Local Environment Plan (LEP). Meanwhile the RWA awaits cabinet approval of its rival BEP2 which will then be shown to the RWA’s Ministerial Advisory Committee and exhibited for public comment. On a third front, the land owner, Housing NSW (HNSW), has obtained Federal funding to develop its own Preliminary Master Plan by mid 2012 for the housing estates and adjoining area. HNSW is waiting for BEP2 to be exhibited before proceeding.

A Council report about the LEP said: “After additional consultation with Housing NSW it has been clarified and accepted that Waterloo Redfern Urban Design Study has offered reasonable and appropriate LEP recommendations. Redfern Waterloo Authority Built Environment Plan – Stage 2, as advised by the Authority, will not be dissimilar to Council’s recommendations and strategy for this area.” If this is so then why do we need the BEP2 to propose alternative controls and why do we need both the BEP2 and the HNSW Master Plan to provide the finer grain for the plan? It is not plain what is wrong with Council’s LEP or why three different overlapping plans are necessary.

What is clear is that the NSW Government wants to redevelop the Redfern Waterloo housing estates. The model being considered is to decrease the concentration of public housing residents in the area by significantly increasing the number of private residents living in the area. The proposed increase is not yet public but based on the 2004 cabinet papers and HNSW’s usual mix, it is expected that there will be about two new residents in the estate area for every existing public tenant.

Central to the shape of the redevelopment is which buildings get redeveloped. Around half of the area’s public tenants live in the high rises. HNSW considers the high rises will not need replacing for quite some time. The question here is what work can be done to improve these buildings. Will they remain just for public tenants, or will some buildings become all private housing or possibly mixes of public and private tenants?

If the high rises remain, the main redevelopment will be focussed on the low rise walk-ups where the other half of public tenants live and where any increase in population would need to be housed. The REDWatch paper outlines a worst case scenario in which the high rises all stay public housing and the government redevelops the walk ups resulting in four out of five of the new homes going to the private market. The cash strapped NSW Government receives a windfall profit, a statistical dilution of the social problems, and is able to shelve the challenge of dealing with half the public housing stock for a future government.

But the issue is not just about renewing buildings. It is also about what Government terms “social mix”. The gentrification of surrounding private properties has coincided with Government changes to eligibility for public housing resulting in estates with concentrated disadvantage in what is becoming housing of last resort. The area has become more polarised. Governments want to break up the concentration they have created and spread the problems more evenly through the community. The “social mix” argument is that it is better for the disadvantaged to mix with the “better off”, but the research on the subject is not clearcut. A downside is that it may lead to less access to services and greater social isolation as the opportunity to mix does not address the issues that are increasingly the prerequisite to gain entry into public housing.

Complex multiple needs require integrated human service delivery and as people with higher needs have been concentrated in public housing the required human services and the integration between them has lagged. Tenants regularly complain about disruptive tenants and want them removed. Often the disruption stems from inadequately addressed psychiatric, drug and alcohol or other issues of the disruptive tenant.

REDWatch has argued strongly for many years that without significant improvement in integrated human service delivery there may be increased, not decreased, tensions post redevelopment. Private residents living in closer proximity to public tenants with multiple needs are unlikely to tolerate behaviour that HNSW currently expects its public tenants to tolerate. Improving human service delivery has to be a central element in addressing the future of public housing in the area.

Service delivery also has to cover how the housing and tenancies will be managed. HNSW currently has a policy of divesting its property to non-government housing providers, and this is likely in Redfern and Waterloo as part of the redevelopment. While there are issues with this divestment, the problem of management is not just about managing the buildings; it is most importantly about the people that live there. Do they feel safe in their building? If they report a problem will it be addressed? HNSW is spending a lot of money on a trial of a concierge program in Waterloo and such improved ways of managing property and high needs tenants need to be part of the redevelopment irrespective of the underlying property ownership.

The Government is saying all these problems are on the table and need to be addressed in its redevelopment plans. Tenants, however, argue that most of these problems already exist and question why they should believe they will be addressed as part of the redevelopment given the Government’s present inaction on the issues.

To address any of these problems requires money! Money to pay for proper human service support and accommodation for high needs tenants, money for property maintenance, money to make social mix more than a statistical dilution and money to properly manage the tenancies and the buildings. These are ongoing government costs for properly running high needs public housing. On top of this there is also the money needed to rebuild the community after the social dislocation from the redevelopment.

The proposed redevelopment of Redfern and Waterloo public housing dwarfs HNSW often mentioned Minto and Bonnyrigg projects. BEP2 and HNSW’s Master Plan will have to deal with inner-city issues like open space, affordable housing and community facilities. It also needs to find solutions to problems stemming from years of underfunding of public housing and human services if the promise of a brighter future for the public tenants of the future and their neighbours is to be delivered. SSH

More information can be found at www.redwatch.org.au/issues/public-housing

Source: South Sydney Herald December 2010 - www.southsydneyherald.com.au/pdf/SSHDEC10.pdf