NSW Community Services Minister, Pru Goward, announced that almost 300 public housing properties at Millers Point, the Rocks and Gloucester St would be sold within two years. She said proceeds from the sale of the historic properties would be reinvested into the social housing system. Asked whether the government planned to sell other high-value public housing, Ms Goward said, ‘This is the only one we have looked at in this detail. We want to get this sale right’. (SMH 17/3).
The Lord Mayor and the MP for Sydney have both argued that the sell-off at Millers Point will threaten all inner city public housing. Well …
Glebe is home to some 14,000 people from a diverse range of backgrounds. Whilst it has pockets of wealth, the suburb also has an estimated 1,424 public housing properties. This represents 18% of all public housing in the City of Sydney. (FLAG’s Submission to Social and Affordable Housing Inquiry, February 2014).
So, now read the Minister’s exact words, then draw your own conclusion.
Let’s analyse what the minister said about the Millers Point sell-off, then consider Glebe. The first premise is that the funds will be ‘reinvested in the social housing system’. The ingenuous reader may believe that means building more housing elsewhere. In fact, the Department has not been doing this. Instead, according to the The Auditor General, the government has ‘sold existing stock to support operating costs’
The second premise is that maintenance of heritage properties is too expensive. The ingenuous reader may believe that means the urgent sell-off of poorly maintained properties. In fact, the sell-off includes properties recently refurbished and the Sirius Apartment block (circa 1980).
The third unspoken premise may be a value statement, which is the elephant in the room, ‘poor people should not occupy high demand sites’. In fact, as The Grattan Institute (among many others) reports, social diversity is essential for community and economic well-being of a city.
The Glebe Society recognises that decisive action is needed to deal with public housing failures – ever-increasing waiting lists, spiralling maintenance costs and inefficient use of existing housing stock. But the government needs to do the hard yards, redress these matters and not create concentrated areas of the neediest tenants. Instead, the government’s latest announcement takes a sledgehammer to the problem, with no indication of how it is going to rehouse the displaced tenants. This is social injustice dressed as economic rationality.
And as for Glebe: the Lord Mayor of Sydney commented in The Guardian:
The fate of Millers Point should give all Sydneysiders pause for thought. Do we want to live in a city that cannot make space for people on low incomes? We need more social and affordable housing in the inner-city, not less, or Sydney’s famous egalitarianism will be destroyed. The inner city will become an enclave for the wealthy.
Glebe is not an enclave for the wealthy. We live in a community with character. The Glebe Society has a proud history of campaigning to support public housing in Glebe, since our founding years. Back then, we successfully lobbied for the Federal Government to purchase the Glebe Estate so that the Church would not sell it for private redevelopment. Now our strategic plan Engaging Glebe 2013-2019. continues support as set out in our submission to the NSW Parliament’s inquiry into public housing. We will continue to campaign to preserve public housing and the diverse character of our community.