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Urban renewal or social breakdown?

The future of public housing in the Redfern-Waterloo area remains grim in the eyes of many residents as local authorities enter into the next stage of proposed redevelopments reports Candice Chung in the December 2007 edition of the South Sydney Herald.

Despite promising that there will be no cuts to the amount of public housing, the NSW Government has failed to convince long-time public housing tenants that they will not be disadvantaged under its urban renewal plans.

The redevelopments, first announced in February last year, consist of plans to “improve existing public housing stock” and promote “mixed housing” in the area. The Redfern-Waterloo Authority (RWA) and the Department of Housing (DoH) have said in October that they will work together to boost human services and conduct community consultation to ensure a smooth transition.

Local community group REDWatch believes there is a lack of transparency as the authorities enter into Stage 2 of the Built Environment Plan (BEP). The group has urged members of the community to make submissions to the RWA before the plans are due to be exhibited in March 2008.

“The whole consultation process is not as transparent as we’d like to see it,” REDWatch member Geoff Turnbull said. “The RWA has been speaking to individuals rather than groups of people, so no one knows what other people have said.”

According to Mr Turnbull, there are also questions that remain unanswered. “When the RWA says it’s not going to decrease the number of public housing in the area, are they referring to the number of public tenants in the area or the number of units in the area?”

Mr Turnbull pointed out that according to the 2006 figures from Housing NSW, there is a clear mismatch between housing and family sizes – potentially leading to significant reshuffling of existing tenants after the redevelopment.

“Over time, the demographics have gone from larger families in public housing down to smaller ones because of a growing number of single-parent families and elderly residents. There are more three- and four-bedroom units but the demand is for smaller units,” he said.

Local public housing tenant Ross Smith has fears that the impending changes can lead to fragmenting of the community.

“If we go to a redevelopment phase, community ties will be broken,” Mr Smith said. “You’re shifting people away from the services they’re used to – the local doctor who knows the family, the butcher in the shopping centre they socialise with – all of this has an adverse impact on individuals and families.”

Mr Smith also noted the concept of “mixed housing” is likely to be difficult to make work in practice because of the polarity of demographics in the Waterloo area.

“Public housing is now increasingly concentrated on people with extremely high needs, and there are not enough human services to cater for those individuals. Non-public housing tenants and private home owners are less likely to tolerate anti-social behaviours from the high-need tenants,” Mr Smith said.

Former NSW Greens candidate for Heffron, Ben Spies-Butcher, said that with the influx of private home dwellers in the Waterloo area, the falling proportion of public housing can create disadvantage for existing residents.

“This process can leave public housing tenants more marginalised and create political pressure for further gentrification which might see public housing eventually pushed out of the inner city,” Mr Spies-Butcher said. “By all means we need to have urban consolidation, but we do oppose the process of urban consolidation that places all the burden of that process on public housing tenants and does so with profit motives in mind.”

Photo: Ali Blogg: New developments in Waterloo

Source: South Sydney Herald December 2007