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Students protest privatisation of inner-city public housing

Yesterday, the USyd Welfare Action Group attended a rally in Martin Place held by Hands Off Glebe, Friends of Erskineville, and Shelter NSW.

Yesterday, the USyd Welfare Action Group attended a rally in Martin Place held by Hands Off Glebe, Friends of Erskineville, and Shelter NSW. Community groups and nonprofits came together in protest against the privatisation of public housing in Franklin St in Glebe and Explorer St in South Eveleigh.

The rally was chaired by Genevieve Kelly, a member of Friends of Erskineville. The acknowledgement of country was given by Carolyn Ienna, a First Nations hip-hop artist and Wentworth Park Rd resident who spoke on her experiences of failings within the system. “Public housing is far from perfect as it is very manipulative in its structure, but for many of us it is the only option apart from rough sleeping … By taking away our only flawed safety net, which sounds like an oxymoron, we will be further disenfranchised.” 

Ienna also pointed to the exploitation of marginalised peoples both within the public housing system and at the hands of private developers, “Developers have no interest in my welfare, and no interest in my needs as a disabled woman. They will have less interest than the system that allows them to cause harm and further trauma to marginalised people.”

Emily Vallentine, a Franklin St resident and member of Hands Off Glebe, spoke to the NSW Government’s $22bn Communities Plus project, which aims to privatise 70% of inner-city social housing. She noted that the removal of working class people from the inner city will only serve to increase the class divide in Sydney, “Moving the poor away from communities and the facilities makes the disadvantage deeper”. 

Housing NSW CEO John Engeler addressed the federal budget released on Tuesday night, stating that “We have the opportunity here in NSW, given the failure of the Commonwealth to commit to this last night, to show leadership the way forward. We need more, not less public housing”. Engeler pointed to the significant decrease in unit size within new developments. “You don’t have to be Einstein to add it up on the back of an envelope and realise that’s not a good idea.”.

Judy Mundey, feminist activist and former President of the Communist Party of Australia spoke on the growing issue of homelessness in Sydney. Mundey declared “this housing crisis will not be solved by relying on the private sector”. She delivered a history of public housing in Sydney, including the Sirius development, which was built in 1980 and sold to private developers in 2015. “The fate that befell Sirius and its residents appears to be planned for public housing elsewhere”, Mundey observed,

“We need the government to accept its responsibility and make provision for what is, after all, no more than a basic human right”.

Protesters marched from Martin Place to the top of Djarrbarrgalli, also known as the Domain, where Eveleigh resident Louisa Binnington spoke on the negative stereotypes often associated with public housing. “We’re all trying to have a life, raise our children, living honestly and working hard, but it seems we’re being punished for it now”, noted Binnington. Greens MP Jenny Leong addressed the NSW Housing Strategy released last week by the state government, “their headline ticket item was to put every piece of public land on an accessible website to assist property developers to pick and choose which bits they would like to develop”.

Former Sydney University lecturer Rose Wiss spoke of the eviction notice she and her neighbours had been served before Christmas last year, and the challenges of living in public housing through the COVID-19 lockdown. Wiss described the evictions as “adding suffering to suffering.”. “We need people to know, in our suburb, that they are going to lose the light. They are going to lose the sense of community”, Wiss declared.

Housing is an intersectional issue that is deeply and inseparably intertwined with other movements for social justice and change. As long as privatisation and overdevelopment of housing remain the norm, working class, LGBTQIA+, POC, and disabled communities will remain disproportionately impacted, and community groups such as Hands Off Glebe and Friends of Erskineville will continue their fight.

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