Socialist candidate slams NSW public housing sell-off as 'big business hand-out'

Millers Point public housing which is being flogged off to developers. Photo: Philippa Bateman

"The NSW Coalition government's proposed sell-off of public housing to property developers is a huge hand-out to big business from the public purse," Peter Boyle, Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Sydney in the upcoming federal election, said on February 3.

"And the planned 'redevelopments' of public housing will make the housing crisis for workers and poor people even worse than now."

On January 24, the state government announced a $22 billion plan to sell public housing in NSW, to construct 23,500 new social housing residences, 35% of which would be handed over to the community and social housing sector. These residences, however, would make up only 30% of new housing developments to be built and sold by the private sector on the land of the current public housing estates.

"The truth about this scam is underlined by the fact that Premier Mike Baird and Co are lauding the Elephant and Castle redevelopment of public/council housing in London's East End as one model for the new NSW 'social housing' policy.

"In reality, only 74 of the 2500 units being built by Australian developer Lend Lease in the London example are for low-income housing. This is only 3% of the total, not the 30% of 'social rent' apartments promised by the company in its master plan.

"Last December, the NSW government announced its proposal to demolish the public housing towers in inner-city Waterloo, to allow for a massive redevelopment providing for mainly private apartments, with the government promising to retain the existing number of 2000 flats for low-income residents.

"In the meantime, public housing tenants are to be evicted, supposedly 'temporarily,' and offered places in the new development when it is finally finished. How long will that take? Many of the current residents are elderly or with disabilities, and will suffer considerable stress from being forcibly moved, for an unknown time.

"The whole Waterloo scheme is a big pro-business scam. The government has rejected a quite reasonable proposal to run the new $10 billion privatised metro underground rail line via Sydney University, which urgently needs improved public transport access, and to route it through Waterloo, in order to use profits from the private housing project to help fund the rail line.

"With the waiting list for public housing currently sitting at 60,000 in NSW, the Socialist Alliance stands strongly against the sell-off of any more precious public housing, but instead the construction of tens of thousands more houses in the public sector.”

Geoff Turnbull, from the local community group REDWatch, said of the Waterloo project: "Redevelopment of the buildings will not result in improvements for the residents unless it is accompanied by changes in the way the government allocates high-needs people into housing and changes the support services provided to help them maintain their tenancies with minimal impact on their neighbours."

Michael Shreenan, executive officer of Counterpoint Community Services, said: "This development, along with others that will surely follow in the surrounding area, will have a profound effect on the public housing community, who are rightly concerned and anxious about the news.

"Given issues such as traffic congestion, the lack of plans to improve currently inadequate social and community infrastructure, coupled with the projected increase in density, will come as no surprise to residents who are cynical after previous unsatisfactory discussions with government."

The state government announced on January 30 a $1.1 billion Social and Affordable Housing Fund aimed at delivering at least 3000 homes for low-income people in NSW. Interest from the fund is intended to subsidise the private sector to construct and maintain affordable housing over the next 25 years.

Wendy Hayhurst, CEO of the NSW Federation of Housing Associations, said 3000 new homes is just 10% of the 30,000 extra social homes the state needs to catch up with current demand, let alone keep pace with population growth.

"Public housing waiting lists are already a decade long in almost every Sydney suburb and many regional areas, and not-for-profit housing providers are impatient to grow — with daily demand for low-cost housing from key workers such as carers and nurses locked out of private rental," she said.

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