Waterloo public housing estate resident, Glenn, is one of the many tenants facing relocation from his home. Credit: Otis Burian Hodge

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Community art project ‘We Live Here 2017’ is providing Waterloo public housing tenants with a platform to express how they feel about controversial plans to redevelop their homes.

The project will see a light installation at Waterloo’s Matavai and Turanga Towers come to life in July, followed by a documentary in late 2017 capturing the stories of tenants and roll out of the project.

Carolina Sorensen, Producer of We Live Here 2017, said the project is designed to enable residents to communicate how they feel about the redevelopment to the outside world.

“We feel like the people who live within housing commission are not often given a voice.

“There is plenty said about Waterloo and what kind of neighbourhood people think it is but very few people actually speak to the tenants who live there.

“For the most part, the people we speak to really enjoy living in the estate, it’s their community,” she said.

Ms Sorensen said the documentary will capture a portrait of Waterloo before the area experiences significant change in the coming years.

“Whether the changes are for better or worse I guess it’s not really for us to say, but the fact is it will be a completely different place in ten to fifteen years’ time.

“We think it’s really important to capture Waterloo as it is now and we thought with the community rolling out this light project and working together to realise it, it would be a great spine for a documentary,” she said.

In December 2016, the New South Wales Government announced plans to knock down six public housing towers and hundreds of homes at Waterloo, affecting approximately five thousand public housing tenants.

The redevelopment will be carried out over the next 15 to 20 years and will see construction of a new Metro train line, updated social housing and the introduction of private housing on the site.

A spokesperson for the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) said all tenants who wish to remain at the site can return once the project is completed.

“There are around 60 thousand vulnerable people on the waiting list for social housing in NSW and the redevelopment of the ageing Waterloo estate is integral to the Government’s plan to provide better homes for those in need.

“It is anticipated the vast majority of social housing residents will never have to leave the estate as they will simply be relocated from their old dwelling to a new one as it is completed on site,” they said.

Geoff Turnbull, Spokesperson for community group REDWatch, said uncertainty surrounding the relocation of tenants is causing tension within the community.

“When they announced the redevelopment they didn’t tell people until 2016 they were putting back the date of the first resident relocations.

“Relocations have now been put back until the middle of 2018, so with no other details on the table the only thing people know for certain is that at some point they’re going to have to move out of their house.

“All that does is increase people’s anxiety because their main thought is what’s going to happen to me and how am I going to be impacted by this, so it’s a huge implication for the people that live there,” he said.

Ms Sorensen hopes the light installation and documentary will be a catalyst for generating conversation about what it means to move housing commission residents out of the area.

“I think there’s a broader conversation that needs to be had because essentially in Sydney poorer communities are getting pushed out of the so called trendy suburbs and there’s such a whitewashing of our inner city areas.

“I think we really need to talk about what kind of cities we want to live in. Do we just have to be really rich to live in the city? Is that the kind of place we want to live? Or do we want to live in cities that are equitable, that are sustainable, that are for everyone irrespective of their socio economic status,” she said.

Mr Turnbull said the State Government must change their rhetoric towards tenants of public housing to avoid causing vulnerable communities further distress.

“The problem is that government tend to go in and bash the public houso when they want to do a redevelopment and they certainly did that around Millers Point.

“So trying to ensure that doesn’t happen through community art projects and engagement with the broader community is important but the other part of it is to help public tenants understand what’s happening and give them a voice in the process,” he said.

A spokesperson for FACS said throughout the master-planning process social housing residents and other stakeholders will be engaged and consulted with.

“FACS has maintained regular communication with residents and the public, specifically that the redevelopment of Waterloo will improve opportunities for social housing tenants with better transport options, modern housing design, and connection to the rest of Sydney.

“We will work with each resident to ascertain their accommodation needs up to six months before their impending move.

“Those who are temporarily relocated will have a property matched to their needs and all residents will be given the option to return to Waterloo into one of the new social housing dwellings,” they said.

Richard Weeks, Founder of the Waterloo Public Housing Action Group, says the art project has the full support of the public housing tenant community.

“What we’ve learnt is that the light installation that We Live Here 2017 is doing is something that tenants want.

“There are about four hundred senior citizens and the majority of people in the whole estate are supportive of it because they want to express themselves and how they feel through light.

“There’s no other way for them to do it, they can’t speak out or they are told to be quiet or nobody listens to them, some of them are immobile as well, but from their window these colours of light can act as something to help them tell their story,” he said.