Against the wishes of residents and public housing campaigners, the New South Wales government plans to demolish public housing in Explorer Street, Eveleigh.
At a combined Alexandria Residents Action Group, REDWatch and Friends of Erskineville meeting on November 8, Department of Planning and Environment and the Land and Housing Corporation representatives were quizzed on the plan, tenant Serena Afa gave an impassioned speech against it and Andrew Chuter, Friends of Erskineville President, gave the following speech.
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Many here will raise specific issues around local impacts of this proposal, so I want to make some general comments about its overall rationale.
One of the most despised aspects of the former Coalition government was its obsession with privatisation: it privatised our electricity, roads, buses, hospitals and public housing — some $3 billion worth.
So it was a relief the Labor government promised an end to that, particularly in the sphere of public housing.
Here are some of its shadow MPs promises before the election.
Chris Minns: “We are immediately freezing the sale of all public and social housing. The sell-off stops now. Because privatising this public housing hurt our state and hurt the most vulnerable.”
Ron Hoenig sent out mass SMS messages: “ONLY LABOR WILL STOP THE SELL-OFF & PRIVATISATION OF PUBLIC HOUSING IN NSW! VOTE  RON HOENIG ON SAT, 25 MARCH.”
City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott: “If you live in public housing, Labor will protect your home. Your home will not be sold, and you will not be relocated.”
Before the election, Rose Jackson and Inner West Councillor Philippa Scott put similar messages on their social media.
This came off the back of a binding motion passed at NSW Labor’s 2022 conference to legislate a moratorium on the privatisation, sale and outsourcing of any public housing assets or services.
The motion also bound Labor to legislate to ensure that public housing in the inner city increased at a rate exceeding local private housing developments.
The motion was strongly pushed by inner city Labor branches and seconded by Rita Mallia, President of the NSW Division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.
We’ve seen no such legislation introduced, and the privatisation of public housing in Waterloo, Glebe and in Explorer Street in Eveleigh has continued.
I wanted to check that this was really happening, here in Eveleigh, so I emailed the Department of Planning.
They replied: “The 46 existing dwellings at Explorer Street … are owned by NSW Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) and tenancies are managed by the Department of Communities and Justice …
“The market homes [50% of the total] will be sold off by LAHC via the delivery partner under a stratum arrangement.”
This is a clear break of an election promise and a breach of Labor’s own rules!
Some have said to me: “But, isn’t 120 social homes better than 46 social homes?”
We don’t judge a course of action by whether a simple good increases or not. We judge it by whether it is the best use of the resources applied.
If I have three cheeseburgers and do something and end up with six cheeseburgers, I need to ask what did I lose to get that?
In the case of Explorer Street, we are set to lose 50% of the public housing land on which this development sits.
If you think of the upzoning as a separate matter from the privatisation then there’s going to be 400 homes here anyway, and to go from 46 public houses to 120 social houses, we have to sell the floor space of 200 homes to get that. It’s a bad deal.
Minister Jackson admitted this on April 12 [and again at Budget Estimates on November 1] when she described the way public housing is funded as “a snake eating itself”.
That approach is not working.
Rather than demolish 46 homes that are only 31 years old, the urgent priority should be to build new public housing on brownfields land.
That is all ready to go in North Eveleigh where, last year, [former Premier] Dominic Perrottet released plans to parcel it up and build mostly offices, ready for sale to Mirvac (which already bought up most of South Eveleigh, now a private suburb).
There’s also a vacant former public housing block at 600 Elizabeth Street, Redfern.
Nobody needs to be evicted from anything.
We need a similar approach to the Whitlam government that, in the 1970s, bought 200 homes in Woollomooloo from a developer and 700 properties in Glebe and converted them to public housing.
Today’s version of that would be to buy industrial land in this area to build public housing.
There’s a stack of that sort of land from Alexandria to Green Square and even some pockets in Erskineville, such as the empty Newtown tram sheds, Brightwell Transport on Coulson Street, and the still undeveloped section of Ashmore Estate on Mitchell Road.
Let’s put the Eveleigh proposal in the bin, where it belongs.
Tell your neighbours about it and make strong submissions but don’t get sucked into their bureaucratic process. Write to the housing minister and the Premier and CC them your submissions.
Work with your local resident action groups and make sure your voice is heard.
Remember: demolition is a political decision.