Local Indigenous Australians and some students are set to benefit from the long awaited redevelopment of The Block.
The redevelopment includes 42 units of student housing to be run by the Aboriginal Housing Company, the not-for-profit group that owns the site. The profits generated from these units, which will house over 150 students, will be combined with revenue from other developments on the site and used to subsidise 62 units of community housing for the local Indigenous population.
The downside of this model is that students searching for affordable housing close to the University of Sydney – including Indigenous students from outside of Sydney – will be unlikely to be able to afford the new rooms. Michael Mundine, CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Company, confirmed media reports indicating students would be paying between $250 and $350 a week for the new units.
Shane Houston, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Indigenous Strategy and Services, said that for families from places like Horn Island in the Torres Straits, the cost of living in Sydney was a major problem. “For people from anywhere outside of Sydney who don’t have family homes in Sydney, it can be a prohibitive factor,” he said. Although the University is mitigating the problem by offering scholarships and streamlining Indigenous applications for college places, cheap beds are still lacking.
According to SRC Indigenous Officer Kyol Blakeney, many Indigenous students are still missing out. “With few Indigenous positions available in residential colleges and wider residential areas the University is associated with it is very hard for an Indigenous person from a rural or remote area to maintain residency here in Sydney. It’s not like the Indigenous students here in the University are the only ones in the country who want to study. It’s that some physically cannot be here because of their financial situations,” he said.
Without his college scholarship, Kyol would be struggling to stay in Sydney. “The cost of Sydney accommodation is well out of my reach in terms of finance right now,” he said.
The prospect of some of the new student housing being given to Indigenous students at a discounted rate has not been entirely ruled out. Mundine was extremely positive about the idea, but conceded budgetary constraints made it potentially untenable. “We haven’t got the money for it at the present moment,” he said.
While the Aboriginal Housing Company consulted the university in the initial phases of planning for the redevelopment, Mundine was emphatic when asserting the University would not have any role in the project.
With the Aboriginal Housing Company and University working in isolation, the opportunity to provide affordable housing for Indigenous and other students in Redfern appears likely to be missed.