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‘Housing is a human right’: Protesters defend public housing

This protest follows the Government's plans to evict more than 100 people from the Franklyn/Bay streets complex, demolish buildings and sell the land to private developers to build 14-storey high complexes in Glebe.

Photography by Calvin Embleton.

Activists demanded the right to public housing during a picket protest on the corner of Glebe Point Road and Broadway on Thursday. This protest follows the Government’s plans to evict more than 100 people from the Franklyn/Bay streets complex, demolish buildings and sell the land to private developers to build 14-storey high complexes in Glebe. 

“Social housing is not public housing. It is an umbrella term for affordable community, Aboriginal housing and general public housing,” said Carolyn, a Wurundjeri woman. 

The housing crisis in NSW has worsened since COVID-19, and has seen increasing house prices and private rental housing across the greater Sydney metropolitan area of, making accomodation unaffordable for low income households over the last decade. More than 50,000 people are currently on a wait-list to access public housing, but there are likely many more who could be eligible. A report by Community Housing Industry Association NSW (CHIA NSW) found that households on the wait-list could leave them waiting for up to 10 years. 

The NSW Government is reported to have sold off $3 billion worth of social housing during the last decade, amounting to 4,205 social housing properties across the state. 

CEO of Shelter NSW John Engeler asserted the importance of language when discussing public housing: “If ever there was a time to talk about the Federal election, and what we think about is in our Commonwealth. It is our Commonwealth to own public housing. It’s owned by all of us.” 

“The NSW Government made $10 billion in stamp duty last year, most of which came from residential housing,” Engeler said. “NSW has enough resources to defend existing public housing and extend it.” 

Pictured: John Engeler, CEO of Shelter NSW.

Glebe public housing tenant Emily Valentine felt housing was a human right which should be safe, secure and sound and well maintained. 

“Renters need secure long-term leases,” she said. 

“2.5 years ago I got the ‘Dear Resident’ letter, telling me that housing was going to rehouse me and rebuild 14 storey buildings to replace it,” said Valentine. This Communities Plus project would privatise 70 per cent of the site, demolish homes and split up communities in Glebe. 

The rally was organised by Hands off Glebe and Action for Public Housing. Hands off Glebe is a community public housing advocacy group who picket on the third Thursday of every month, and have done so for the last four months, in the fight for greater social cohesion, socio-economic and financial stability.

The picket came two days before the Federal election. All the candidates standing in the electorate of the City of Sydney were invited to attend. 

Socialist Alliance candidate for Sydney, Andrew Chuter, condemned both major parties for their neglect of public housing in favour of funding their profitable interests of private health, the fossil fuel industry and the West Connex. Chuter spoke of the Arkadia Building in Alexandria, a new publicly-owned apartment complex, housing 24 terraces and 128 apartments, built by Defence Housing Australia which cost “$400 000 to build per apartment.” This price is estimated to be half the median cost of private housing in the area. 

Chuter criticised the government for promising $12 billion worth of fossil fuel subsidies, which he felt could be redirected to building 30,000 homes. He also criticised the $1 trillion allocated for defence over the next 20 years, which could be used instead to build 2.5 million homes. 

Glebe Society Planning Convenor, Ian Stephenson, brought up previous government responses to the housing crisis. He reminded protesters of the 1974 Federal government that purchased over 700 historic houses from the Anglican Church and renovated them to keep Glebe as a place for low-income people to avoid displacing the existing community.

Stephenson characterised the State Government’s selling off Commonwealth-acquired historic houses in order to rezone heritage areas to make room for privatised high-rise buildings as “destroying the social fabric of this urban demographic.” 

Greens candidate for Sydney, Chetan Sahai, said the fight for affordable housing, “had yet to “win the right for everyone to live a life of dignity.” Sahai criticised those in government who are only interested in the “profits of developers and private market” that leads to a small subset of people getting “very rich while the rest of us have to work to pay rent, mortgage, and get by.” 

The picket moved to defend and extend public housing with an assertion of securing affordable social housing and building more publicly owned spaces to combat the wait times and housing crisis. 

Protesters ended by chanting, “Homes are for people, not for profit.”