Govt accused of “social cleansing” over inner city public housing sell-offs

Protestors at yesterday's rally in Martin Place. Photo: Rachel Evans/Facebook.


Residents and supporters of inner Sydney’s beleaguered social housing communities have gathered to demand the government stop plans which they say amount to “social cleansing”.

A rally in Martin Place yesterday heard accusations that the Berejiklian Government’s Communities Plus program will see a reduction in social housing in the inner city and the relocation of residents to suburban areas. 

Under Communities Plus, which will ostensibly renew the state’s social housing portfolio, social housing estates will be sold off to private developers to create “mixed-occupancy” developments, in which 70 percent of dwellings are set aside for private properties, and 30 percent for social housing.

Several social housing complexes in Glebe, Redfern and Waterloo have been earmarked for redevelopment under Communities Plus, while there are concerns that others – including the massive Northcott Estate in Surry Hills – are also being eyed off by the state government.

Poor “forced out”

Emily Valentine, a resident of the social housing estate at Bay and Franklin Streets, Glebe, told the rally the government’s plans were tantamount to forcing poor people out of the inner city.

Ms Valentine said residents in her estate were told by the government their block was being redeveloped, and that they would be shifted into flats in Western Sydney – far from their workplaces, networks and communities – with nebulous promises that they could move back to Glebe later. 

“The poor are being forced out so that the wealthy can gentrify inner suburbs,” she said.

“People should be able to live close to where they work and stay in their community. For a community to function it must include all.”

Social cleansing?

Felicity Cash, a resident of the Waterloo Estate South social housing estate, told the Sydney Sentinel recent planning changes for the area had led to uncertainty among residents.

“Our homes have been identified as one of the locations of the Communities Plus program to deliver public housing alongside private housing,” she said. 

“But we haven’t been told exactly what that means. Our understanding is that our homes will be demolished and we’ll have to move elsewhere. The lucky ones might be able to move back – but with only 30 per cent set aside for social housing it seems unlikely we’ll all be able to move back.

“To say Communities Plus is a case of social cleansing … well, I don’t think that’s it’s too strong to say that.” 

Protestors at yesterday’s rally in Martin Place. Photo: Rachel Evans/Facebook.

“De-concentrating disadvantage”

Under the Communities Plus plan, public housing estates are sold off to private developers to create mixed-occupancy, private/public developments, to “de-concentrate disadvantage”. 

It is this kind of development which is set to replace a number of public housing estates in Glebe, South Eveleigh and Waterloo. The NSW Government claims the “renewed” estates and high rise complexes will increase the number of social housing dwellings.

Critics say the number of bedrooms per dwelling will be lower, with family homes being replaced by one and two bedroom apartments. 

Lack of clarity

While the Communities Plus strategy has a flashy website, and promotional materials are loaded with positive messages, for inner city social housing residents there is a lack of clarity around how the government will effect its stated 70 per cent/30 per cent private/public housing mix. 

Will, for example, existing social housing estates such as the Northcott Estate in Surry Hills – the largest such complex in Australia – be demolished, to be replaced by a private/public housing model along the 70/30 model? 

The fact that unused apartments at the estate are being boarded up and apparently taken out of the social housing pool – and that longterm residents are being issued evictions notices for minor rent arrears – has led some to believe the estate is next on the government’s redevelopment hit list. 

However, the NSW Government denies there are any such plans. 

It may be worth noting, however, that the government says they are “not aware of any units at the Northcott estate that have been boarded up”.

A government spokesperson claimed late last year: “On-site security performed a check of the Northcott building on 3 November 2020, finding no units boarded up.” 

This was despite an investigation by the Sentinel‘s John Moyle at the time finding that there were at least six apartments at Northcott Estate boarded up and uninhabited, with photographs to prove it. 

Northcott Estate resident Peter “Pierre” Gawronski and his parrot Caesar outside boarded-up apartments in the complex. Photo: John Moyle.