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‘Housing is a basic human right’: Protesters campaign for 100% public housing at Elizabeth Street, Redfern

“Public housing, affordable housing, there’s a dire need for it,” said representative for the Waterloo Neighbourhood Advisory Board (NAB) Karyn Brown.

Protesters gathered at 600 Elizabeth Street, Redfern last Saturday to demand 100% public housing on any redevelopment of the site.

Speakers included representatives from Action for Public Housing, Shelter NSW, REDWatch, Maritime Union of Australia, and Hands Off Glebe, as well as Member for Newtown Jenny Leong.

CEO of Shelter NSW John Engeler called for the state and federal governments to build 100% public housing on the site and rethink its plan to sell a large portion of the plot for private development.

“It’s not too late. Good governments realise when they’ve made a mistake and they change their mind, they do it all the time,” Engeler said. 

“They’ve made a mistake here at Redfern and all of us turning up today is proof of that.”

The current proposal for the site, issued by the Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC), is a mixed tenure project where 70% of the area will be sold for private development and 30% will be used for a combination of social and affordable housing. The site was originally planned to be 30% social housing and 10% affordable housing. 

However, the Department of Planning and Environment’s website states: “Proposed planning controls reduced the site’s dwelling yield to a level where a [Build to Rent] model was not viable and no longer met the objective of delivering the project at no cost to government.”

Representative for Waterloo NAB Karyn Brown also condemned LAHC’s approach.

“I don’t know where they came up with this idea that public housing shouldn’t cost any money. If it can pay for itself then we wouldn’t actually need public housing,” Brown said.

“Governments, state and federal, have to put money into [public housing] now while we’ve still got somewhere to build. Because if they sell off this land, there will be nowhere to build it in the future.”

The protest comes as Sydney suffers from a public and social housing crisis, with nearly 1000 applicants for dwellings in the Inner City, and expected wait times of five to ten years for a studio or one bedroom apartment.

“We certainly have a battle ahead of us to make dignified, affordable housing a right, not a privilege, but we are up for it. We are winning,” said Rachel Evans, Green Left Socialist Alliance Senate candidate and member of Action for Public Housing.

“We don’t want social housing. We want public housing, because social housing is privatisation by stealth. Social housing providers are known to treat tenants with less regard than the public housing tenants are treated. We know that people have been given two weeks eviction notices in social housing.”

The protest also criticised the lack of maintenance structure for public and social housing provided by the state and federal governments.

“[The government] didn’t do their duty of care, they let the properties run down, which made it easy to move people, leave them empty, then hand them over to developers or sell them privately,” said Barney Gardner, a spokesperson for Save Millers Point.

“People blame the tenants. There’s a stigma about public housing tenants. I’ve been here for 72 years, there’s people who’ve been in public housing longer than me and they’re wonderful people,” Gardner said. 

“We were given these homes, and we may not own them, but we treat them like we do, and all we ask the government is that if we’ve got a problem come and fix it, but we find that very difficult.”