"The Waterloo Tent Embassy has made a big impact, is winning growing support every day, and has already gained government action on fixing longstanding maintenance problems at the Waterloo public housing towers," Richard Weeks, spokesperson for the Waterloo Public Housing Action Group (WPHAG), told Green Left Weekly on July 20.
Weeks said that as a result of public pressure against the state government's plans to demolish the Waterloo towers and replace them with private high-rise apartments, senior housing department officials had attended the embassy on Waterloo Green in inner suburban Sydney to discuss issues facing residents in the public housing estate.
"Tenants here have suffered serious maintenance problems, such as leaking waterpipes and broken windows, over five years or more. We were preparing 54 applications before the Civil and Administrative Tribunal over these issues.
"As a result, the officials went away and within a week many of the maintenance problems have now been fixed," he said. "We have also demanded consultation with the housing minister and the premier to discuss the whole issue of the Waterloo housing project."
"Since the tent embassy was set up in June, we have mounted a peaceful campaign, including a widely supported petition, to oppose the sell-off and demolition of the towers.
"We have gained support from other public housing tenants, such as those fighting eviction in Millers Point, Glebe, Manly, Campbelltown and regional areas. Despite an attempt by one person to claim we are dividing the Waterloo residents on racial grounds, we have united the community, both white and Black," Weeks said.
The WPHAG petition asks the NSW Legislative Assembly to “place the security and well-being of local residents ahead of developer's interests.” It is a state-wide initiative that Weeks estimates will receive up to 10,000 signatures in the coming weeks.
With more than 60,000 people currently on the public housing waiting list and an average expected wait time of 10 years in the Sydney district, the NSW Greens spokesperson for public housing Jan Barham says this is a missed opportunity to expand public housing.
“The Waterloo redevelopment gives the government an opportunity to increase the amount of desperately-needed affordable and public housing in Sydney's inner city. But they've chosen instead to use the extra capacity on the site for yet more private apartments with a cost out of reach to low income earners,” she said.