Gentrification by stealth

11 March 2021 | Posted In: #138 Autumn 2021, Affordable Housing, Archive, Planning Campaigns, Public Housing,

Glebe is the latest inner-city suburb to become victim of a LAHC land grab. Christopher Kelly reports.

Here we go again — inner-city public housing tenants being turfed out of their homes all in the name of “renewal”. More than 100 residents from Glebe’s Franklyn Street estate — near the Broadway shopping centre — are to be rehoused while the historic public housing block is bulldozed and rebuilt in order to accommodate private units.

Residents found out about the redevelopment plans November last year when the Land and Housing Corporation announced its intention to “renew the estate” with “new and better social housing” as well as “private housing in new apartment buildings”. In all, the Franklyn Street redevelopment will consist of 425 dwellings. But here’s the all-too familiar rub: only 30 percent (130 units) of the new estate will remain public housing; the other 70 percent (295 units) is earmarked for private buyers.

This, says LAHC, will enhance the estate’s social mix. “Social mix is a myth,” writes Hands Off Glebe spokesperson Dr Hannah Middleton in the Sydney Sentinel. “In the redevelopments, buildings are separated according to whether the tenants are public or private, usually with separate entrance halls, parking lots, separate gardens and facing different streets or parks. Public and private residents rarely mix.”

One of the original sites of Tom Uren’s ambitious plans for public housing in the city, the 30-year-old Franklyn Street estate has a special place in inner-Sydney’s history. Some of its residents have lived there from day one. Such as 68-year-old Emily Bullock. “As a resident of Franklyn Street I know there will be a lot of distress caused to very vulnerable people by this cavalier approach to demolishing social housing,” says Bullock. “In previous moves like this in Cowper Street, Glebe and Millers Point people have committed suicide, been hospitalised and the stress levels have risen remarkably.”

The government’s response? Speaking to Nine News, NSW housing minister Melinda Pavey said: “We have to look at the value of this land right in the middle of Sydney and the opportunity for first-home buyers to be able to come into the market.” Meanwhile, LAHC has said the new public housing units would be “better matched to the needs of residents, especially for those ageing or with a disability.”

Dr Alistair Sisson, research associate at the City Futures Centre at UNSW, says the Franklyn Street redevelopment plans reveal a disturbing trend. “Between Glebe, Eveleigh, Waterloo, and Ivanhoe in Macquarie Park, the NSW government has been picking off public housing on prime real estate. This isn’t about improving or increasing public housing, but about profiting from it.”

The Franklyn Street sell-off has energised the community with residents and advocates flyering, petitioning, and holding rallies. Unsurprisingly, the plans have also provoked a social-media backlash. “Once they make their minds up it’s basically a done deal. Liberal governments have no interest in public housing.” posted Annette on Facebook. “They should think about putting money into homes and fix them up,” posted Shazza. “There are houses around [Glebe] that are falling apart — absolute joke.” Meanwhile, Paul posted: “Gladys and her farkwits are at it again — a developer’s dream.”

LAHC has said that, should the plans be approved, Franklyn Street tenants would be expected to move out mid-2022; they would not be able to return to the redeveloped estate until sometime in 2025. “Housing NSW must accommodate these families, elderly and needy tenants somewhere else in existing Housing NSW homes, with a promise of return,” says Bullock. “But those temporary homes could be permanent homes for the people on the [public housing] waiting list.” A waiting list of more than 50,000 people — 4,000 of which are flagged ‘priority’.

“There is a desperate shortage of social housing in Sydney,” says City of Sydney councillor, Dr Kerryn Phelps. “The NSW government is planning to demolish the homes of hundreds of people in Glebe and displace residents, hand the land over to developers, with only 22 extra social housing apartments and a loss of open space. This will destroy lives and alter the character of Glebe.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Middleton. “The poor, working class, elderly and sick are increasingly being pushed out as the neoliberal state government pursues policies of gentrification by stealth. Our suburb has been through many transformations but this latest is simply not acceptable. Some localities have lost what made them distinctive places, but Glebe has retained a strong sense of place and kept its own unique voice. We must not let the government and developers take this away from us.”

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