NSW government tears down public housing

Friday, February 9, 2007

It was with much disgust and sadness that I watched the demolition, on February 6, of perfectly good public housing on the Macquarie Fields public housing estate.

Row after row of double-story town houses came tumbling down under the relentless grasping of the backhoe and bulldozer. Nothing was saved: timber, roof tiles and bricks were crushed under the tracks of the bulldozer. Fences, newly erected and painted, car ports and garages weren't spared. Neither were the desperate lives and histories of those who once lived here.

It all seemed such a waste, not to mention a criminal act. Where have all these poverty-stricken wretches been dispersed to I wondered?

This is happening on a grand scale across NSW: from Dubbo in the central west to Minto in Sydney's south. The NSW Labor government is no longer interested in public housing because it has completely embraced the private sector — private motorways, tunnels and the airport line — to provide for our needs, no matter what the cost.

Both Labor and Liberal politicians believe that the problems that arise on public housing estates are a product of those who live there. The idea that if people are poor it must be their own fault is alive and thriving in those circles.

Yet politicians' failure to provide the necessary infrastructure for fully functioning communities makes clear who the real culprits are.

High rents, the lack of public transport, poor housing maintenance, limited drug and alcohol and psychiatric counseling, poverty and limited job opportunities mean that people have no power over their lives. Thousands become stranded by desperation and substance abuse.

The other problem is that politicians take no responsibility for their decisions. Recent changes to NSW public housing tenure rules have been harsh for the tenants. It's always much easier to blame those without a voice. Unlike the developers, the inhabitants of Macquarie Fields contribute nothing to the coffers of the major parties.

Across Australia, the problems are acute. As more people fall into the poverty trap of low wages and rising costs, we are losing public and low-cost housing at an alarming rate. The corporate media is full of stories about the rental crisis in our major cities — a rental property goes to the highest bidder and if you don't have the cash you miss out altogether.

Demolishing and reducing public housing in NSW is only adding to the housing crisis. We urgently need masses of environmentally friendly, energy-efficient, low-cost-but-quality housing to be constructed. This must take place following community consultation so that the new buildings and their occupants become part of a vibrant and flourishing community integrated into the rest of society.

In the meantime the decimation of what is still fairly decent public housing must stop now.

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