Aboriginal IssuesDevelopmentHousingNews

Aboriginal affordable housing a crucial priority

The place we call Redfern and Waterloo has been home to Aboriginal people for 60,000 years. It has offered belonging, safety and inclusion for most of the last century. However, today, as housing affordability continues to diminish, there are grave concerns about the ability of Aboriginal people to remain in this culturally significant area. As NAIDOC Week (July 7-14) calls on us to work together for a better future, it is important to remind all community members and policymakers about the crucial need for Aboriginal people to remain physically in place during moments of critical urban change.

Pam Jackson Photo: Nina Serova

Redfern and Waterloo is the land of the Eora nation belonging to the Gadigal clan. This is also where we created a hub for Aboriginal people from all around the country. It was on this ground that we forged a long history of empowerment, culture and creation through many grassroots organisations such as the Aboriginal Medical Service and the Aboriginal Legal Service.

Although the Pemulwuy project, which is currently being built on The Block, has designated 62 affordable homes for Aboriginal families, a lot more needs to be made available to support the ever-expanding work opportunities and family growth among Aboriginal people. A lack of affordable housing contributes to a cycle of social, economic, health and educational inequality among Aboriginal people. We need to provide housing so that Aboriginal people can continue to participate in study and their local community and sporting events. We especially need safe and comfortable homes for Elders, domestic violence victims, and people recently released from justice centres.

As major redevelopments such as the one in Waterloo take shape, we should be concerned about the permanent disruption of the physical and social fabric of our local community. The rise of the cost of housing has especially hit those who have grown up and wish to remain here. Aboriginal people continue to be pushed out to western suburbs in search of a place to live that can be managed on their income.

If a deliberate and substantial affordable housing allowance for the Aboriginal community is not made, people in social housing who have recently gotten a job may be forced to choose between employment and keeping their home. This is because they will no longer meet the income cut-off for social housing, but find private rentals in the area too expensive, even on a full-time wage. Despite growing up here and caring for their community, they will face rental stress and may be forced to move.

In 1968, 35,000 Aboriginal people lived in the Redfern area. By 2011, this number had plummeted to 300 and has remained steady ever since. The prioritisation of non-Aboriginal people with complex needs as part of social housing policy, growing numbers of urbanites buying up property, and now, the Waterloo redevelopment, are all seen by some as the final act in a long squeeze that has seen the area’s Aboriginal community slowly disappear.

At a time when across the country Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are fighting for a voice, calling for treaty and asking for truth, as this year’s NAIDOC theme reminds us, we need to solve the question of affordable housing. Otherwise, we face severe marginalisation of Aboriginal people from the rest of the community in the centre of our largest and richest city. There has been some attention on the issue in the mainstream press (see the Sydney Morning Herald’s June 6, 2019 article “Redfern’s soaring rents push Aboriginal community to the fringe”). Let’s keep this conversation firmly on the agenda.

If you have thoughts on the matter, please get in touch with Pam Jackson at Inner Sydney Voice on 9698 7690 or alo@innersydneyvoice.org.au. Or, come along and have a yarn at the NAIDOC Week community day at Redfern Park on Friday, July 12. Also, please put our Inner Sydney Aboriginal Affordable Housing Forum in your diary. It’s on Thursday, July 25, 2.30-4pm at Waterloo Community Centre, 95 Wellington Street, Waterloo (near the IGA).

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