In Cowper Street and Wentworth Park Road the plan is to excise two sites from the St Phillips Heritage Conservation Area in order to change the existing height limit of 9 metres to 36 metres. This will allow the demolition of a 2 storey building and 4 1980s terrace houses and their replacement by two 8 storey buildings and five 3 storey terraces containing 35 new public and affordable and 39 private dwellings. The housing targeted for demolition has heritage significance and one is a building of “high architectural merit”.
In Glebe – as in other Sydney suburbs — the poor, working class, elderly and sick are increasingly being pushed out. The stock of public housing is being eaten away through market sales (over the past decade Labor and Liberal governments have privatised 7,000 public housing properties in NSW) and run many more down through skimping on repairs and maintenance (often called ”demolition by neglect”).
And the NSW Government has been bulldozing public housing on inner city estates and rebuilding it alongside large numbers of private apartments to create, it claims, a better “social mix”.
The “social mix” lie
Government policy of replacing 100 per cent public housing complexes with 70 per cent private and 30 per cent public homes is justified as improving social mix. However, this is spin to conceal the politically sensitive practice of displacing tenants and selling the land they lived on to developers – that is, privatising public assets for profit.
Limiting social housing to 30 per cent in redevelopment projects is promoted because of the belief that any more would scare off private buyers and reduce developer returns.
Demolitions and evictions claimed to be for social mix disrupt support networks and social structures. Forced relocation from a neighbourhood brings with it serious impacts on physical and mental health.
And in the real world social mix is a myth. The new buildings are always separated according to whether the tenants are public or private, usually with separate entrance halls, parking lots, separate gardens and facing different streets or parks. Public and private residents rarely mix.
In the public housing complex between Franklyn, Glebe and Bay Streets about 110 residents are facing having their homes bulldozed and being evicted in 2 years time. The proposed redevelopment will have around 295 private units but only up to 130 public housing dwellings. The plans include 2-storey townhouses but also towers up to 14 storeys high, quite out of place in Glebe’s traditional low rise character.
High rise threat
The various government housing projects are opening the way to more high rise developments, threatening to turn the low rise character of Glebe into a multi-storeyed wasteland.
This is not new. Government proposals for the Bays Precinct include buildings of up to 45 storeys, whereas a 2017 Glebe community survey showed a strong commitment to low rise development there with a maximum built height of 5 storeys.
Elizabeth Farrelly in the Sydney Morning Herald (26-9-20) warned that “this cancer will spread. With towers on the old fishmarket site and the nearby 10-storey Mezzo and West End gentrifications, selling for millions, this 50-year slide from a culture that gives poor people space and sunshine to one that crams them into the shadows will be unstoppable.”
During Australia’s post-war public housing construction boom, governments thought their investment was necessary for economic productivity, improve public health, and support families. In many countries today funds are invested in public housing in support of sustainability, economic stability, and social cohesion. It is time the NSW Government followed the same path.
Everyone has a right to safe, adequate and affordable appropriate housing. This is essential for our health, well-being and social and economic security. Safe, affordable housing is the foundation stone that gives people a chance in life.
We desperately need a major public housing building program to meet the needs of the 60,000 on the waiting list and the many homeless in our city.