Camperdown residents rallied last Wednesday against State Government plans to demolish four housing commission terraces in preparation for a new housing project.
The protest came as Housing NSW announced it had lodged a Development Application with the City of Sydney for the site.
The new building will be constructed on a park owned by Housing NSW. The park is located between the Joanna O’Dea building and the Alexandra Terraces in Camperdown.
Housing NSW has warned residents that at least four terraces next to the park will also need to be demolished for the proposal, forcing the current public housing tenants to relocate.
Paula Murray lives across the road from the site and has been campaigning for residents who face eviction to make way for the development.
She said the State Member for Balmain, Verity Firth, had assured her in a meeting that the Camperdown site would no longer be needed for the project. “She actually told us a lot of things that were untrue. We came away thinking that the project was going to be moved to another site and I checked it out after the meeting, and I checked it with [Housing Minister] David Borger’s office, and it was not true,” Ms Murray said.
But Ms Firth denied making such a commitment. “My only assurance is that I would investigate the possibility of other sites for the project,” she said. “After conversations with Minister Borger, it was clear that no other appropriate location could be found given the specific needs of the project.”
Michael Reeves has lived in his housing commission flat in the Joanna O’Dea building for four years. He said residents are worried the new project will bring more crime to the area. “I’m all for looking after homeless people, but bringing in more of what we’ve already got makes absolutely no sense whatsoever,” he said.
“We’ve already got enough social problems in Joanna O’Dea as is. We’ve got drug dealing going on there, we have police here quite frequently, at least once a week.”
City of Sydney Greens Councillor Irene Doutney said her party strongly supported the project. “It’s a really important initiative. It’s unfortunate that the design [the Department of] Housing has chosen is going to impact on those terraces,” Cr Doutney said.
“I have concerns about the people who have to be moved out of Alexandra Terraces and I’m going to be talking to Housing NSW to make sure that that’s being done and those people are happy with the way it’s being done.”
Labor Councillor Meredith Burgmann agreed the prospect of relocation was unfortunate, but necessary. “These things are always upsetting, but to be able to provide 102 housing units for people who are now homeless is a terrific project,” she said.
“Six houses are being affected and I would prefer they weren’t, but these things happen all the time.”
The concept of Common Ground was established in New York 18 years ago, and was seen as a complete rethinking of social housing.
Rather than providing overnight crisis accommodation, Common Ground offers permanent residence for as long as it is needed, along with providing crucial social services. These services include counselling, drug treatment, education and job training.
The Minister for Housing, David Borger, said he was happy to see Sydney finally adopting the project.
“The Common Ground approach provides formerly homeless people with long-term housing and in-house access to support services,” Mr Borger said.
“The Common Ground model is now working with great success right around the world and I’m pleased that it’s being adopted in cities around Australia.”
According to a NSW Housing fact-sheet released last month, the government would, “cover all removal costs and pay for the reconnection of electricity, gas, phone [and] internet,” as well as pay for three months’ mail redirection, and waive the rent for the first two weeks to help residents settle into their new home.
by Ehssan Veiszadeh