Housing is a human right

February 2, 2021
Franklyn Street resident Emily Bullock addresses the Glebe rally. Photo: Peter Boyle

The recent announcement by the New South Wales Housing Minister Melinda Pavey, to demolish the Franklyn Street public housing in Glebe and the Explorer Street estate in Eveleigh is, frankly, a disgrace.

These plans would involve putting up apartment towers and selling 70% of them to the private market. That will fund a miniscule increase in the number of public housing dwellings. Putting aside the fact that these new homes will be much smaller than the existing ones, the basic idea then is to fund the renewal of public housing by selling the very land that it sits on. It’s like satisfying hunger by cannibalising your own limbs.

If that logic is not obvious enough, we can just look at the facts on the ground.

These kinds of “renewals” have been going on in Sydney and wider NSW for a long time now and the results are in.

The City of Sydney’s Housing Audit of 2020 reveals that the percentage of public housing in the area, as a fraction of all housing, has fallen from 12% to 9% since 2005.

In fact, it’s a national problem.

The federal government’s own Productivity Commission released a report two weeks ago that found that the percentage of public housing in the country is down from 5% to 4% over the past decade. These figures are dismal. We need to set our sights much higher.

Private developers must be taxed with something like a public housing levy, and governments must urgently build enough public housing so we get rapidly to a situation where everybody can live in a decent home without being in financial stress.

That would go a long way to putting in practice what we mean when we say: housing is a human right.

There is certainly no need to worry whether the developers can afford it.

In Erskineville’s Ashmore Estate, the Goodman group bought land in 1995 for $16 million. It was upzoned and sold in 2015 for $350 million.

At Lewisham Estates, upzoned land went from $9 million to $50 million in just 7 years.

These are super-profits, way above inflation. These upzoning windfalls are effectively massive gifts from the NSW government to their developer mates.

We need to demand that money back. We need to defend and extend public housing, not demolish it for private developers’ profits.

That’s why Hands Off Glebe and Friends of Erskineville are forming an alliance to save and extend public housing and we invite everyone who believes in the cause to join us.

[Andrew Chuter is the secretary of Friends of Erskineville. This article is based on his comments to a January 30 protest called by Hands Off Glebe. The next protest to save public housing is on February 13 in Explorer Street, Eveleigh.]

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