"We call on the Baird state government to re-block the Waterloo towers, not knock them down," Richard Weeks, spokesperson for the Waterloo Public Housing Action Group (WPHAG), told Green Left Weekly on July 6. He was referring to the NSW Coalition government's plans to demolish the public housing towers in the inner suburb of Waterloo, and replace them with high-rise, private apartments.
WPHAG wants the government to renovate and repair the towers, rather than knock them down. Refurbishment would be considerably cheaper than demolition, but the government is hell-bent on its anti-public sector, pro-big business agenda.
"We are drawing a line in the sand," he said. We are demanding that the premier and housing minister come down here and talk to us. The government is planning to move 15,000 people out of public housing in Sydney, mostly in Waterloo and Redfern.”
The government says one-third of the new apartments will be social housing. But social housing is not the same as public housing. Social housing is run by non-government organisations, rents are generally higher and there is less security of tenure.
Weeks said: "The government wants to deliberately run these buildings down in order to declare them condemned, so that they can go ahead with their demolition and redevelopment plans.
"So, we are going to pursue a legal case based on failure of duty of care regarding maintenance of the towers, in order to force the government to take action on essential repairs.”
WPHAG is seeking public support to build the campaign. On election day, it handed out 28,000 how to vote cards at polling booths and gathered more than 1000 signatures on a petition to protect the homes of Redfern and Waterloo public housing tenants.
"Up till now, the only parties supporting us have been the Greens and Socialist Alliance,” said Weeks. “But through Action for Public Housing and other groups, we are spreading our network statewide, and aiming for broader support.
"The good thing about the Waterloo campaign is that it is a coalition of Black and white people, including 27 nationalities and many religions among the tenants in the towers.
"We'll keep going with our campaign until we win. The government might have the power, and the police to back it up, but we have people power."