by Adele McDowell
Following years of delays, construction on the Glebe Affordable Housing Project still has no starting date, despite the approval of plans by the State Government in December and construction earmarked to begin this year.
The $170 million development by the NSW Land and Housing Corporation plans to create 153 social housing dwellings, 90 affordable housing units and 250 private apartments on the Cowper Street site, which will alleviate stress on public housing waiting lists and provide much needed affordable housing to the inner city.
“The Glebe Affordable Housing Project is an incredibly important project for the future of Sydney,” says Linda Scott, a councillor with the City of Sydney Council. “The NSW Liberal Government needs to get on with the job and deliver this project as soon as possible.”
Jamie Parker, Member for Balmain and The Greens MP, is calling for the State Government to take accountability for the project, saying, “the Minister and the Department of Housing have been appalling when it comes to actually delivering a commitment to this development”.
The site, bound by Cowper, Queen, Wentworth and Bay Streets, is situated between the Broadway Shopping Centre and the Sydney Fish Markets. While originally housing 300 tenants in a low-rise public housing complex, the site has sat empty since it was demolished in June 2011.
Housing NSW has called the project “an exciting, rigorously researched, cutting-edge model of mixed tenure housing development” which will deliver “an increased number of social housing dwellings”.
Jamie Parker is sceptical. “While the amount of public housing dwellings is larger, the actual accommodation is less. The previous units were two to three bedrooms, whereas in the development plans the majority are one bedroom units”.
Neil Macindoe, former Leichardt councillor and planning convenor ofThe Glebe Society, says, “You’re losing space, and you’re losing diversity. Instead of the kind of rich pattern of housing that you’ve got throughout Glebe, you’re just creating one person apartments”.
Critics of the project are also concerned that there is a lack of a mix between community and private housing, with the 51 per cent of the site planned for private sale segregated from the social and affordable housing sections by an extension of Elger Street.
“What looked as though it was going to be an innovative program, combining different types of housing with different types of ownership, is working out to be the exact opposite – a development that perpetuates the problems,” says Neil Macindoe.
Barbara Roberts-Simson was a resident of the former Cowper Street estate for 42 years before its demolition.
“First they came in and refurbished the units, with new carpet and flyscreens. And then they started to install lifts and intercom for safety, and I thought, ‘wow!’ It was really terrific,” she says. “And then we hear that they’re going to demolish it. It was such a shock! I just thought ‘If it’s not broken, why fix it?’ They were in good condition.”
Barbara says residents and community groups tried everything to stop the demolition. “I was the last one to leave,” she says. “They wanted me to go to a new place in Lilyfield, but I didn’t want to leave Glebe, my friends and the community. Now it’s been a big hole in the ground for three years.”
The project will be funded by the NSW Land and Housing Corporation and the Commonwealth Government, through the Housing Affordability Fund and the National Rental Affordability Scheme. Community housing providers City West Housing Company and Bridge Housing Limited will manage the social and affordable housing sections.
In September 2012, a third party challenge to the development application was heard in the Land and Environment Court, with a resubmitted application subsequently approved in August 2013.
The 2013 NSW Auditor-General’s Report on public housing called for immediate action to provide accommodation for some 120,000 people currently on public housing waiting lists, with some applicants waiting up to ten years for accommodation.
The report noted a growing need for single person dwellings, as well as delays to upgrading and public works programs due to lack of available funding. The NSW Legislative Council resolved to establish a Select Committee to enquire into social, affordable and public housing last month.
A spokesperson for the NSW Land and Housing Corporation said Family and Community Services are “now progressing civil engineering works for the site and subject to the further development application approvals required for subsequent construction, works will progress with a target completion date in late 2016”.