By DANIEL LO SURDO
Leading an emotion-fuelled campaign against the monoliths of the NSW Government is a responsibility Louisa Blair never thought she would shoulder.
The 30-year resident of the Explorer Street public housing estate in Eveleigh describes herself as more bashful than boisterous; not the sort to ordinarily welcome newcomers into her living room with tea and chocolate biscuits.
But when Blair spots injustice, she refuses to stay silent.
“I’m quite shy in a lot of ways [but] if I see people being mistreated it really provokes something in me,” Blair told City Hub.
“It makes me so angry and disgusted.”
Indignation once directed at wrongdoings afar took on a new personal level in November last year, when Blair first learned of the relocation her community were to undertake in the latter half of 2022.
The Land and Housing Corporation’s proposal would also spell removal for the empty-nesting Blair, a founding member of the Eveleigh housing estate in 1991, who found Explorer Street while completing her Bachelors’ Degree in Social Science & Policy at the University of New South Wales. Blair contends that inner-city living in the early ‘90s was far from the gentrified splendour marketed to the tertiary-educated professionals of today.
The proposed renewal in Eveleigh, just south of Macdonaldtown Station, comes as part of the Berejiklian Government’s plans to deliver new social and market homes across the City of Sydney Local Government Area, with residents of Glebe’s Franklyn Street and Waterloo’s public housing estate growing similarly concerned with the uncertainties of their future.
Residents rally together
Deb Lucero has been neighbours with Blair for the past 19 years of her life. From her three-bedroom townhouse, she has raised two children, served in a nearby Waterloo childcare centre and established deep-seated connections throughout the Eveleigh community.
Now with the threat of relocation towering above her home, Lucero credits her longtime neighbour with pioneering the new wave of civic participation in Explorer Street.
“A lot of people don’t know what to do or how to make their voice heard,” Lucero told City Hub.
“Hav[ing] somebody like Louisa that’s being very proactive in getting information out there [and] reassuring neighbours and residents of Explorer Street that there is a way our voice can be heard … is why a lot of us are willing to speak up about it.”
“Sitting quiet may be the easiest thing to do, but what we see is the injustice.”
Lucero refers to the cruelties of the Land and Housing Corporation throughout the past six months, mistreatment that Blair labelled “shocking”.
“We first got that lovely little leaflet dropped in the letterbox that basically stated that we were going to be moved on … and around June 2022 we would all be out of our properties,” Lucero said.
“We had no idea at all, and the fact that it was simply a letterbox drop was not okay.”
“It’s not that we’re saying it’s not fair that they’re going to relocate us … it’s the way it’s being done: no information from the Department of Housing at all, we have not been told a thing, so that leaves everything up in the air as to where we’ll be relocated to as well.”
Allies across Sydney
Beyond the 42 households of Explorer Street stands an expansive network of supporters allied with the tenants in their battle against the Land and Housing Corporation.
Blair projects an air of gratification when asked about the transcendent backing her community has held against a naturally unnerving adversary.
“Jenny Leong has been fantastic, she has been really supportive of this issue and really communicating with residents in the local area, and is genuine about it,” Blair said.
“[When] the issue came up a few years ago, she came up knocking on everyone’s door saying ‘if I get elected then I will make sure this doesn’t happen, it’s about communities and neighbourhoods, not about profiting developers’.”
Leong has been the NSW Legislative Assembly Member for Newtown since 2015. From Macquarie Street, the Greens MP has assumed statewide party responsibilities for housing and homelessness, human rights and multiculturalism.
Since November, Leong has been liaising with Blair and the Explorer Street community to champion an assertive opposition to the renewal.
“There is strong community support behind the residents – and I have made it clear that demolishing public housing, building private units on public land and tearing down family homes will never be supported by the Greens,” Leong told City Hub.
“We will be doing all we can to ensure that this demolition never goes ahead.”
Friends of Erskineville President Andrew Chuter has seen firsthand the effects of the Land and Housing Corporation’s inner-city public housing offensive and has mobilised his local resident organisation in concert with the tenants of the neighbouring Eveleigh estate.
“It’s a sinking feeling with what’s gradually happening to [the residents],” Chuter told City Hub.
“We’re concerned for all Department of Housing tenants … we’re willing to challenge the Government on this.”
With the renewal still in its early planning phase, the Land and Housing Corporation maintains that residents will be notified at least six months before relocation will be required, with a specialist relocations team engaging with each tenant to identify a suitable property for their respective needs.
When discussing the negative stereotyping attached to inner-city public housing tenants, Blair grows frustrated.
“I have a tertiary education, I’ve worked and studied my whole life, I’ve worked various jobs so that if I’m not getting income from one source I’ve always got a backup,” Blair said.
“Everyone I know here has just been working really hard and bringing their children up their whole lives.”
Blair pauses, before speaking the idiom so aptly reflective of those mistreated or marginalised in Australian civil society.
“The rich get richer, and the poor get the picture.”