FoE President’s speech at Explorer St BBQ

The Friends of Erskineville (FoE) held a free BBQ and protest meeting at the Explorer St, Eveleigh public housing estate on Saturday February 13th. The event was co-hosted by Jenny Leong MP, Hands off Glebe, Shelter NSW and REDWatch. The following speech was given by the current FoE President, Andrew Chuter. You can also see the photos from the event on our Facebook page here.

UPDATE MAY 2021: Our call for inclusionary zoning has now been agreed to by the NSW government. Developers in the City of Sydney will be levied to support affordable housing.

Acknowledgement of country – Gadigal land, Eora nation

Welcome everyone and thanks for coming. Please enjoy a solidarity sausage.

FoE believes that the plans announced by the Housing Minister, to demolish these wonderful homes, whack up apartment towers and sell 70% to the private market is wrong.

Not just wrong here, Explorer St, or in Franklyn St Glebe, where we’re also campaigning.

Not just wrong at this time, during a pandemic, or at a time when the public housing waiting list is over 50,000 applicants long.

No, we believe it’s wrong in principle.

That’s because you can’t fund public housing by selling the very land it sits on. It’s like putting ads on the ABC to pay for the news. It’s just a way of avoiding the inevitable fact that a public good requires public investment. That’s what we pay our taxes for.

The state government may claim that there is some miniscule increase in the number of public housing dwellings being provided. But it’s not the absolute number that matters. It’s the proportion of public housing as a fraction of all housing that matters. That is what determines the overall social accessibility of public housing.

And when we look at that figure, what do we find?

The City of Sydney’s Housing Audit of 2020 reveals that the percentage of public housing in the area, is in fact falling. It’s gone from 12% to 9% since 2005. And the federal government’s own Productivity Commission report 2 weeks ago found that the percentage of public housing in Australia is down from 5% to 4% over the last decade.

How can that be? Aren’t these sort of projects, which are 30% public, aren’t they bringing the figure up?

You can find the answer just 10 minutes walk from here, in Ashmore Estate. Developers there are in the middle of building 3000 new apartments, and not a single one of them will be public, let alone affordable. That’s even despite the former landowner, Goodman Group making a massive profit of over $300 million when the state government upzoned the land for them.

Put simply, the private sphere is being allowed to massively swamp the public sphere.

So couldn’t we counter-act that by mandating developers build a minimum percentage of affordable housing on new developments? Sure, it’s called ‘inclusionary zoning’. Just recently Ryde Council proposed just that.

They proposed a very modest 5% of all new developments be affordable. And guess what? In November last year the Department of Planning refused it.

And when they do build their 100% private housing, what is the quality like? Is it good construction, with solar panels, energy and water efficient, and at a fair price?

No, as we saw at Opal Tower and Mascot Towers, it’s terrible.

The Sugarcube building in Erskineville was abandoned for 2 years because it didn’t have the land underneath properly remediated. The Joshua building in Alexandria had fire safety defects that meant the building was not compliant with the Building Code of Australia. Garland Lofts in Zetland was evacuated over water and fire safety concerns. We now know that the typical apartment building in NSW is so riddled with defects that the average cost of remediation adds another 27% to the costs after purchase.

So obviously the system isn’t working.

If we believe that housing is a fundamental human right, we need radical change.

We need to abolish negative gearing, and to remove capital gains tax exemptions.

We need to tax developers and mandate they provide minimum levels of affordable housing in new developments.

We must demand buildings of high standards that are environmentally sustainable.

We need government to build new public housing on suitable public land or buy land for that purpose.

We need to maintain and renovate the existing public housing stock to high standard.

We must provide enough public housing so that nobody needs to live in housing stress.

And finally, at the very least, we must stop the destruction and sell-off of what little public housing we still have left, like here at Explorer St.

Put simply, we need to wrench housing away from the clutches of the developers and the market.

So please, today, if you haven’t already, sign the online petition to the housing minister. That way you’ll not only be sending a message to the government but we’ll have a way to keep you informed through campaign updates. Please stay active in this campaign, and together we can defend and extend public housing.

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