One of the days of celebration on Waterloo Green. Photo: Jim Anderson

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By John Moyle

It has been a week of mixed emotions in the Waterloo Estate with the announcement of Mission Australia as the new provider of the social housing Tenant Participation Engagement (TPCE) program, replacing two highly valued workers from local community organisations.

The week also brought news of an extension of the consultation phase for the estate’s development options.

Those options are on display at the Waterloo Connect office at the estate, constructed as three physical models of the proposed re-development plans accommodating between 6,500 and 7,200 units.

“There are three models that are so small, and there is no sense of human scale in the models and we have made that point,” said Geoff Turnbull, spokesperson for community group REDWatch.

The three options are named as Waterloo Estate, with a proposed 6,800 dwellings and three hectares of public space, Waterloo Village Green with up to 6,900 dwellings and 3.97 hectares of public open space and the Waterloo Park with up to 7,200 dwellings and 3.97 hectares of open public space.

The estate’s tenants have long accepted that a development will transform the area over a 20 year period, but are now arguing over the finer details such as density, overshadowing, parks and affordable housing levels.

The project’s plans to increase the density by up to three and a half times has even attracted the ire of Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore.

“The City is alarmed that the scale of development the Government is proposing will condemn people to substandard conditions and massively impact surrounding housing, existing parks, streets and open space,” Cr Moore said.

“It seems the real focus is on maximising the financial returns from the sale of this public land rather than planning for the kind of area that people will want to live and work in over the coming decades.”

Mr Turnbull said “In one sense they are prepared to speak about anything except the overall density, and it is that that has worried the City of Sydney.”

In the middle of the debate is also the ongoing tussle over the amount of affordable housing.

“We have argued for five per cent affordable housing for Aboriginal people and that is based on the way gentrification has happened in Redfern and driven out the Aboriginal community that can no longer afford to live there,” Geoff Turnbull said.

“The density has been driven by the NSW government Communities Plus policy, which dictates private developers renew social housing at no cost to the government,” said a spokesperson for City of Sydney.

“The Communities Plus policy is insensitive to locals’ circumstances or the existing density of the area.”

The window for feedback has been extended through to November 19th.

Late Tuesday afternoon Minister for Social Housing Pru Goward’s office issued a press release stating that Mission Australia would be the new provider for services to social housing tenants, replacing the 14 years’ service of Counterpoint and 23 years’ service of Inner Sydney Voice.

Gone are two of the area’s most effective public housing tenants advocates in Housing Communities Program (HCP) worker Laura Kelly and Tenants Participation Resource (TPRS) worker David White.

Both positions will conclude by December.

“This means that people no longer have a voice or pathway to speak with government departments,” Richard Weeks, chairman, Waterloo Public Housing Action Group said.

Ms Goward’s press release claims: “From December,the TPCE program will strengthen community ties for people who are isolated in social housing, help tenants organise community groups, link tenants with support services and provide feedback to FACS on potential community improvements.”

Residents and community groups say they are skeptical of these promises given the loss of well-respected workers with long historical knowledge and high levels of trust.

“Laura Kelly would be the epitome of a community worker, while David was more behind the scenes keeping people and services connected,” said Mr Weeks.

Charmaine Jones, executive officer of community advocates Inner Sydney Voice agreed, “Knowing this history means that you approach your work in a different manner to someone who is not aware of it.”

“Tenant participation is about building the capacity of social housing tenants so that they can have a dialogue with their housing provider and others such as local council and state government.”

Michael Shreenan, an executive officer of Counterpoint which has been supplying services in the area since 1977 said, “Big organisations have the same problem that governments have with bureaucracy and it takes a long time to make decisions.

“The government has given preference to large organisations over grass roots organisations and this now seems to be the trend.”

Katrina Hines is a public housing tenant and also a member of one of Redfern’s Neighbourhood Advisory Boards who says she is concerned that the level of care currently received by tenants will be diminished by the changes.

“As a public housing tenant you often feel very screwed around by government services … when funding models change and different organisations take over we have to build rapport with a new organization, and we don’t know if they have our interests at heart.”