Public housing activist: ‘We have the right to decent housing’

February 15, 2023
Karyn Brown speaking at the Housing Justice Rally on February 11. Photo: Peter Boyle

I live in Waterloo public housing, which is 3.5 kilometres away from Sydney Town Hall.

Seven years ago, the government decided to build a Metro station at Waterloo, instead of at Sydney University because in Waterloo there is public land for it to sell. It is not just land, but housing as well — home to around 3000 people.

Their plan is to demolish all the existing homes and give the chosen developer a clean slate.

They said that we would benefit from the influx of 7000 people in private homes, that they would “inspire” us. They claim that 30% public housing is the right mix.

Public housing is only 12% of all housing in Waterloo. There has been a massive increase in housing in Waterloo over the last decade. None of it is public.

They said that being surrounded by private housing would reduce the stigma attached to public housing. We are surrounded by private housing and the stigma comes from the mouths of government.

Public housing is nothing to be ashamed of: it doesn’t need to be hidden. It doesn’t need to be renamed and it doesn’t need to be privatised. “Community housing” is privatisation.

Public housing is one of many types of housing and it exists because there was and still is a need for it.

It has not increased in line with population growth and still the government sells off public land to already wealthy corporations. It has sold more than $3 billion worth of public housing, while the waiting list grows longer.

That is something to be ashamed of.

Homeless people being turned away from shelters every night is something to be ashamed of.

Grandmothers living in cars is something to be ashamed of.

Politicians of all stripes insist that the solution to the housing crisis is to “build more housing stock”.

Developers have been doing this for years, and things just get worse.

Block after block of apartments go up and public housing, private rental and home-ownership get further and further out of reach for more and more people.

The market is not fixing it. It is concerned only with profit, not people.

We need governments to put the right to decent housing for all ahead of the rights of developers and property investors.

Thousands of properties lie empty because tenants are too much bother. We need government to make owning a vacant property more of a bother.

Housing is a basic need and decent, secure housing allows people to get on with their lives with confidence.

Traditionally, public housing met the need for security and the ability to plan for the future. That security has been taken from the tenants in Waterloo, and public housing estates across New South Wales.

For seven years, the government has told us we will have to go.

We don’t know where to. We don’t know when. We don’t know who our private, government-subsidised landlord would be.

Relocation and the right of return depends on a tenant meeting “eligibility criteria”.

The possibility of ending up homeless because you have a job is real. What a choice: employment or a home. What a shitful way to treat people.

We need to stop this now. We need to save our homes and our security. Waterloo is the largest public housing community in the country and can never be replaced. We need to save it and we need your support.

[Karyn Brown is a public housing activist. She delivered this speech to a Housing Justice Rally at Sydney Town Hall on February 11.]

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