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Tower tenants knocked back to make way for high-flyers - 02.12.2004

The 530 public housing tenants who live in the twin 30-storey towers Turanga and Matavai, which the Government plans to demolish in its grand redevelopment scheme for Redfern-Waterloo, are all aged over 55.

Residents die at a rate of about one a week, said Turanga's elected tenants' representative, Barbera Hilbrink, aged 76.

"Our feeling is we will live it out. It won't happen until after we die," she said.

But agencies that lobby on housing policy in the area are more concerned at government plans to privatise two-thirds of the Department of Housing land that straddles 23 hectares in the area.

Cabinet documents reveal the aim is to import 12,500 private tenants and owners to dilute the social effects of clustering 7000 public tenants on one site.

The low-income housing agency, Shelter NSW, called on the Government to withdraw its plans immediately and to begin community consultations.

Ageing tenants are being forced to pay the price of the planned expansion of Sydney's CBD into Redfern, Shelter's executive officer, Mary Perkins, said. "Some of these people have lived there for 30 years and more - some for generations - it's their home and the only home they know," she said. "This scheme was dropped on us from on high, without consultation, without discussion, and without the slightest consideration for the wishes of the residents."

The co-ordinator of the Inner Sydney Regional Council for Social Development, Charlie Richardson, has questioned the Government's motives.

"Will it be the fluffy notion of a change in social mix, or the billions of dollars potentially flowing to Government that will have most influence over the development of the plan?" he said.

Redfern Legal Centre director Helen Campbell said government assurances that public housing was not involved in the plan had turned out to be untrue.

In Mrs Hilbrink's 14th-floor eyrie, it is easy to see why developers will be attracted by views to the Blue Mountains, Darling Harbour and Botany Bay. As she says, the views are worth a million dollars, but she only has to pay $54 weekly from the veteran's pension she receives for fighting in the Dutch resistance during World War II.

Mrs Hilbrink believes that even if the tenants are moved to let private developers demolish their homes and rebuild, they will be well accommodated.

"Look, it's all government land, isn't it? Even if we had something against it, we don't think we could do something about it," she said. "They want to get other people in. Otherwise it will be a ghetto, no doubt about it. Personally, I think it's good."

Meanwhile, a coalition of nine Redfern Aboriginal organisations, including the housing company, medical service and metropolitan land council have warned that they will "fiercely resist" any attempt to resume black land on the Block.

"We are particularly concerned about suggestions that the land currently owned by the Aboriginal Housing Company could be forcibly acquired by the Government," they said in a statement.

By Debra Jopson and Gerard Ryle SMH December 2, 2004