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Housing in the heart of the city

The Glebe Estate, which the Whitlam government purchased from the Anglican Church, was a parcel of 19 hectares of land located on both sides of Glebe Point Road near the intersection with Parramatta Road. The estate comprised over 700 dwellings, 60 commercial sites and other buildings, and was subsequently redeveloped by the government’s Department of Urban and Regional Development as part of the Glebe Project.

Among those present at the celebration were 92-year-old Sadie King, who was a community representative on the original tenants’ consultative group for the Glebe Project. She still lives locally and with friends Rosie Amis and Patricia Gilbert, who used to work together in the kitchen at St Scholastica’s College, recounted how getting homes locally enabled them to travel to work easily.

In speaking for Tanya Plibersek, who was delayed, Verity Firth quoted from Tom Uren’s 1974 second reading speech: “We purchase the Glebe lands to protect people … [The Glebe Project aims] to avoid the sudden displacement of the existing population and to avoid any disruption to existing community networks, to retain the opportunities for low income earners and families and aged people to live close to the city as part of the wider community, to improve the employment opportunities of the residents of the estate and finally to preserve the townscape and sympathetically rehabilitate it.”

She continued: “In the 40 years since that decision we have seen exactly that happen to Glebe. As a local resident I love the way our community remains so diverse, with people from different backgrounds, different walks of life, who’ve lived here a long time, who’ve lived here a short time. Tom’s speech absolutely sums up why the decision about Millers Point is so catastrophically wrong. Almost every single statement in Tom’s speech could be applied today to the residents of Millers Point and why we need to maintain public and social housing in the heart of the city, near the heart of the services. Why we need to maintain a diverse community. Why we need to care about our historical landscapes and not just the buildings but the people who make those communities.”

Jamie Parker, State Member for Balmain, spoke of the fight to win the Glebe public housing 40 years ago during a time of great vision and optimism, but said that times now are very different. Today we need “not only to defend the public and social housing we have from sell-off, but need to extend the amount available,” he said.

The October release of the latest Expected Waiting Times for Social Housing in NSW bore out this need. The data shows an increase of 3.6 per cent in the number of people on the waiting list from the previous year, with more than 59,000 households across NSW now waiting for social housing assistance. The waiting time is four years on average and up to 10 years for popular locations in the inner city.

NSW has the largest social housing system in Australia, with 140,000 dwellings supporting 295,000 people. A further 30,000 households are supported through private rental assistance.

Minister for Family and Community Services Gabrielle Upton said the latest information reinforces the need for a reformed social housing system. “Waiting times have increased and there is clearly a need to deliver more housing that better meets the requirements of the community,” Ms Upton said. “The increase in waiting times comes from a reduction in the number of people leaving public housing and the difficulties people on low incomes have in accessing affordable private rental accommodation.”

A NSW Legislative Council Committee also handed down its recommendations on social, public and affordable housing in October. A dissenting report from government members underlined the lack of political agreement on the future of high value public housing like that in Millers Point and potentially other inner city areas like Glebe.

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