City News

‘Communities Plus’ what? Understanding the inner-city social housing program

Public housing residents and advocates protest to save public housing in Glebe. Photo: Allison Hore

By DANIEL LO SURDO

When the NSW Government announced plans last November to redevelop the social housing estates of the City of Sydney, what followed a fleeting emotion of relief was a sustained, unprecedented feeling of panic. 

Much of the affordable housing of South Eveleigh, North Eveleigh and Glebe had been without proper maintenance for years, and a State-backed renewal project seemed a positive reaction to the vocal cries for higher living standards in the inner-city. 

It wasn’t until project designs were released to social housing tenants, attached to the notices of relocation in their letterboxes, did the waves of trepidation throughout the edges of the CBD truly begin. 

The City of Sydney housing redevelopments were part of the NSW Government’s Communities Plus program – a $22 billion large scale building project aimed at renewing the social housing portfolio throughout the state. 

As part of Communities Plus, approximately 70 per cent of the inner-city’s social housing would be privatised to deliver about 3000 new, private high-density dwellings across the targeted redevelopment sites. 

Protesters outside a public housing terrace house in Glebe in an attempt to disrupt the auction. Photo: Allison Hore

NSW Parliament Member for Newtown Jenny Leong maintains the program offers no tangible gain for the social housing tenants of the inner-city. 

“[Communities Plus] is nothing about communities, it’s about the plus,” Leong told City Hub

“The plus is the amount of profit that will go to private developers.”

Balancing the books

City Hub understands that the 70:30 private and social housing split part of the Communities Plus program has stemmed from the NSW Land and Housing Corporation’s requirements to function on a revenue-neutral model, whereby the State’s most valuable land – much of which located in the City of Sydney – are being cannibalised so that redevelopments incur minimal expenditure. 

Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Wollongong Alistair Sisson believes the approach will only accelerate the growing pockets of disadvantage in the rapidly gentrifying inner-city. 

“We shouldn’t be expecting what is really a vital part of the welfare state to be paying for itself,” Sisson told City Hub

“To be handing [public land] over to the private sector to make pretty huge profits in exchange for a very, very marginal increase in the number of social housing units, in some cases no real increase … is a really, really terrible deal for the public in general.”

Concept art for a proposal to renew the Franklyn Street social housing estate in Glebe as high density apartments under the 70:30 model. Photo: NSW Government

With Communities Plus focusing on predominantly high-density housing, there is concern that the redevelopment will deliver no net gain in bedrooms, an outcome that is growing particularly troublesome as the State’s social housing waiting list is expected to surpass 60,000 in the wake of COVID-19. 

“We’re not going to meet the needs of these tens of thousands of applicants who need a one or two-bedroom dwellings, we’re not going to meet their needs by redeveloping small sites like [the inner-city] to increase the number of houses by 10 or 20,” Sisson said. 

“To think you’re going to make a dent in [the waiting list] with 10 or 20, even 100 or 200 units at a time through these redevelopment projects is a fantasy.”

Accelerating inequality

Senior Policy Officer at Shelter NSW Cathy Callaghan recognised that the mixed-tenure model will further the inequalities emerging in the City of Sydney.

“If you look at Communities Plus and the social theory behind it, around the social mix, it’s very explicitly designed to change the communities,” Callaghan said. 

“To explicitly say we want a new community that will be 30 per cent social, 70 per cent private knowing full well the income disparity between some of the communities, it seems quite disturbing that a government would set out to deliberately change communities so radically for them to become unlivable for the communities who traditionally lived there.”

Residents who have been campaigning to save their public housing properties are celebrating the win. Photo: Daniel Lo Surdo

The NSW Land and Housing Corporation insists that the Communities Plus program will create greater social diversity and support systems in the inner-city. 

The redevelopment project will also deliver about 1300 new affordable housing units across the City of Sydney Local Government Area, in what will be a 41 per cent increase in social homes across the inner-city. 

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