Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Locals respond to Waterloo announcement

Local community organisations, politicians, and the media have made statements in response to the NSW Government's recent announcement that Waterloo is to be extensively redeveloped. Much of it is focused on the impact to the suburb's social housing tenants, and the public housing portfolio in NSW.

Aerial view of Waterloo

Community services

The Factory Community Centre auspices a range of social and community services for residents of Waterloo and Redfern. Many of their clients are public housing tenants. They are also based out of a Waterloo property owned by NSW Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC). 

The centre's statement welcomed Social Housing Minister Brad Hazzard's announcement that there would be no loss of social housing dwellings in Waterloo, noting an "increase in social housing stock is desperately needed given the length of the current waiting list for public housing." It also acknowledged the Minister's assurance that relocated public housing residents would be allowed to return to Waterloo, and that services operating out of LAHC properties would not be evicted. However, the Centre was critical of the Government's failure to consult with it prior to announcing the project; "...again we find ourselves in the position that the community will be consulted after the decision has already been made."

Redfern Legal Centre is a Community Legal Centre whose catchment area includes the Waterloo area. Its services include the specialist Inner Sydney Tenants' Service. The Centre's statement expresses much the same concerns as Factory Community Centre; "These [concerns] include the lack of consultation with public housing tenants about the new plans and the concern that often final plans do not match assurances given at the outset. We hope the current and any future government honour commitment that there will be no reduction in social housing, all current tenants will be given the opportunity to return to the area and that the relocations will be done in a calm and considered way."

REDWatch is a community group based in Redfern, Waterloo, Eveleigh, and Darlington, with a longstanding interest in local social housing issues. In a statement, REDWatch questioned how the Government would ensure positive outcomes for current public housing tenants out of the redevelopment; "...where does the Minister propose to temporarily relocate the residents displaced during the construction of the new development?" The group asked further, "If tenants are to be moved from public housing to either affordable or community housing, how does the Minister propose to guarantee their existing tenancy and rental arrangements?" REDWatch is also collating public statements made by significant figures concerning the project, here

NSW politicians

Waterloo is located mostly within the NSW Electoral District of Heffron. The Member for Heffron, Ron Hoenig (ALP), has not made public comment on the redevelopment. A small section of northern Waterloo is located in the Electoral District of Newtown. The Member for Newtown, Jenny Leong (Greens), did issue a statement concerning the project. Ms. Leong says that the Government must ensure there is no decrease in the number of social housing residents in Waterloo, rather than simply provide for no decrease in dwellings; "Whilst we acknowledge the Government's commitment that the number of social housing dwellings will be maintained in the new development, we need to ensure that these dwellings will continue to house the same number of residents...As a minimum we need a commitment that there will be no reduction in the number of bedrooms or number of residents that can be housed." Ms. Leong's statement also says the area needs more social housing;  "Our community needs a significant investment in affordable housing, which needs to come on top of any commitment to maintain existing public housing..." 

NSW Greens spokesperson for Housing, Social Housing and Homelessness, Jan Barham MLC, issued a statement echoing Ms. Leong's call for more social housing; "With almost 60,000 people on the waiting list for social housing in NSW it's not enough to maintain existing numbers of social housing properties. The redevelopment around Waterloo is a prime opportunity to provide more inner-city social housing..." 

The Shadow Minister for Social Housing, Tania Mihailuk MP, published a comment on her Facebook page. It reads, in full, "On the 8th day before Christmas this cold and callous Govt has announced that 4000 people in Waterloo will have their homes torn down. This Govt simply wants to make money out of these sites - the winners are investors and developers yet again." 

Local politicians 

Waterloo is located within the City of Sydney Local Government Area. Councillor Linda Scott (ALP) issued a comment calling for the interests of public housing tenants to be protected throughout the redevelopment process; "The urban renewal of Waterloo...must be done with great sensitivity, in-depth community consultation, and with a commitment to invest in infrastructure...Current public housing tenants in Waterloo affected by these plans must be given iron-clad assurances of returning to the upgraded social housing dwellings." In a blog post on the announcement, Councillor Irene Doutney (Greens) said, "I will be scrutinising these plans closely to ensure that public housing remains in Waterloo."

The City of Sydney itself has not made public comment on the announcement. However, in its Housing Issues Paper published in April 2015, it identifies a redevelopment of Waterloo as one of four "Critical one off opportunities to delivering substantial [social and affordable housing] supply in the inner city."

Federal politicians 

Waterloo is located in the federal electorate of Sydney. The Member for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek MP (ALP), has not made public comment on the announcement. Ms. Plibersek was also Housing Minister from December 2007 to September 2010 - the first time the Ministry had existed as a standalone portfolio since 1994. The position was abolished following the 2013 election. 

In September 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull created the first Cities and The Built Environment Ministry at the federal level of Government. Prior to his resignation from Cabinet, the former Minister Jamie Briggs MP did not make any comment on the announcement. Nor did Shadow Cities Minister Anthony Albanese MP. 

News media

The Sydney Morning Herald published a masthead editorial which addresses the housing and tenancy ramifications of the announcement at some length

"Some potential problems need to be overcome to make this an urban renewal success. Existing public housing tenants will be relocated temporarily. This is a difficult logistical task and an emotionally fraught one for long-time residents. It is easy to forget that for all the bad reputation of the Waterloo tower blocks, most of the people who live there are law abiding, productive citizens. The key will be bringing them along with the process, thereby allaying their fears that they are being driven out for the sake of what one long term resident has called a "yuppie invasion"... But given the process is being conducted over two decades, future governments will be under enormous pressure to reduce the proportion of public or affordable housing and sell it for revenue."

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