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Groundswell of support for housing tenants

The public submission last January by the Redfern-Waterloo Authority of the BEP2 draft plan to redevelop the housing sites in the area has drawn criticism from local groups. Criticism is due partly to the time for consultation being considered too short (four weeks) for the community to fully understand what a project of this scale implies reports Sandra Beeston in the South Sydney Herald of June 2011.

“This was an unfair position to place local social/public housing residents in. The BEP2 is complex, as is the policy reasoning behind its formation, and there is no way you can expect a community to comprehend its significance, complexities and likely impact on the future of this community in that time frame”, said Michael Shreenan, Executive Officer of the Factory Community Centre. “Unless a community renewal plan is understood, owned and supported by the local community from beginning to end, it is likely to lead to disastrous results.”

 Following the high level of frustration this short consultation process provoked, several local community workers and activists have decided to create the Groundswell Coalition, an association of several local community groups and non-government agencies, such as REDWatch and the Factory Community Centre, as well as individual residents who feel their concerns on safety, housing, health and transport are too often being ignored by the relevant services. Their aim is “to ensure the community has the necessary tools and resources to make informed input to local decision-making and do so from a point of view which is as independent as possible.”

“In the current political climate and with local residents’ frustrations reaching a new high, Groundswell Coalition couldn’t have arrived at a better time! We believe it provides a real opportunity for tenants to gain a voice and affect change,” said Laura Kelly, a Community Development Worker, at the group meeting a couple of weeks ago.

Irene Doutney, Greens Councillor for City of Sydney, says: “Currently, although Housing NSW have been doing a lot of ‘consultation’, their sessions are information sessions only and residents do not realise the full implications of what such redevelopment will mean for their security and their communities. I believe Groundswell will try and fill this gap in residents’ knowledge of what redevelopment means for them including how it will affect their current lifestyles.”

Even though Groundswell is aimed at non-government organisations, the Redfern-Waterloo Authority has expressed an interest in working with the group in a positive manner. Natalie Tikken from the RWA says that they “welcome all community involvement in the planning for the future of the Redfern-Waterloo area”. She also says about the BEP 2 draft that “there will be further rounds of consultation and RWA and SMDA (A/N: Sydney Metropolitan Development Authority) are looking forward to working with Groundswell in the future to ensure successful and effective outcomes”.

“Groundswell wants to be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” says Michael Shreenan. “Our concerns are about ensuring the community is heard on whatever issue they want to raise, either now or in the future, and that the members of the community have the skills and access to resources to do so in an effective manner. We want to see the development of collectively agreed standards in community involvement and engagement and ensure government sign up to these standards and prove that they are meeting [them] and not just ticking the box.”

Geoff Turnbull from REDWatch says that “the major challenge facing Groundswell is finding ways to get 4,200 public tenants talking about the proposed changes, asking questions, getting information and understanding what is proposed”. One way the group has found helped to encourage discussion was to organise “Film Nights” and show documentaries such as Waterloo (1981) by Tom Zubrycki, an historical account of the 1970s battle by residents to save the area from slum clearance and redevelopment by public housing authorities, as well as Saving Erko Estate, a film about the successful 2002 campaign to save Erskineville Housing Estate from a similar re-development to that now planned for Redfern and Waterloo. The group then gave a list of questions to the audience about how the stories told in the films can be compared to their current situation.

Geoff Turnbull says: “The videos are seen as being useful tools in getting people to start talking about the issues and to realise that they can make a difference. One person said after seeing Saving Erko Estate that they did not realise anyone had ‘won against Housing NSW’. Again, it is about how people can change a Government’s mind.”

For more information, please contact Geoff Turnbull: www.redwatch.org.au  or Michael Shreenan: www.the-factory.org.au

[For more information on Groundswell visit www.redwatch.org.au/redw/gs or www.facebook.com/pages/GroundSwell-Redfern-Waterloo/166269223427768 or email groundswell.coalition@gmail.com]