Aboriginal IssuesCommentHousing

An Aboriginal affordable housing ask for Waterloo?

In the next month discussions will start with the community as to what people want from the redevelopment of Waterloo. One of the big questions is what will be in this for the Aboriginal community.

Redfern and Waterloo have been home for many Aboriginal families over the decades but the gentrification of the area has seen the number of Aboriginal families drop drastically, with the only low-income accommodation now available for those who have places in the soon-to-be redeveloped public housing.

People who grew up in Redfern and who have called this place home have been forced out.

You see it with young people coming back to Redfern to be part of the Redfern All Blacks, or coming back into the area just to be around people and an area they knew and felt at home in. They have been pushed out of the ’hood by a lack of affordable housing.

Left unchecked, Redfern will go the direction of Fitzroy in Melbourne. Once the heart of the Aboriginal community in Melbourne, it is now made up of very expensive designer shops with brass signs that say “between these years such-and-such Aboriginal organisation was here”.

Redfern, the heart of Aboriginal Sydney, could easily go the way of Fitzroy unless there is a concerted push to make sure there is a viable Aboriginal community in Redfern into the future.

There are, of course, Aboriginal families who have purchased in Redfern and Waterloo before the prices went crazy, and there are young Aboriginal professionals who can afford to buy into the area, but for a large number who grew up here there is little chance of returning and being part of the Aboriginal future of the area.

So as we start to talk about what the Aboriginal community gets out of the redevelopment of public housing in the area, it seems to me that we need to be talking about both Aboriginal social housing and Aboriginal affordable housing.

Aboriginal social housing is needed for low-income families, and given that Aboriginal dedicated services are historically concentrated in Redfern, having a significant Aboriginal social housing community in Redfern and Waterloo makes sense. One of the concerns here is that the redevelopment is looking to reduce the size of houses so we need to make sure there are still places suitable for larger Aboriginal families to return to.

Having a social housing Aboriginal community and a professional private Aboriginal community, however, leaves no opportunity for those who have grown up in social housing and are just starting out or in low-paid jobs to be able to stay within the community. This is the area where Aboriginal affordable housing becomes crucial. It is talked about in the mainstream for teachers and nurses and police officers who do not earn enough to be able to live near their work. But it equally applies to the lower-paid who grew up in the area who have low-paid jobs who can no longer afford to live in the area where they grew up.

The Greater Sydney Commission has proposed that there should be 5-10 per cent of additional houses as affordable. Currently in the Waterloo redevelopment, the government is committing to 5 per cent.

So when discussions start as to what people want from the redevelopment, should one of the asks from the community be that there should be 5 per cent of the redevelopment dedicated to Aboriginal affordable housing for working Aboriginal people, with a preference for those with historical associations to the area?

If this were to eventuate there would continue to be an ongoing mixed age and income Aboriginal community from which future Aboriginal organisations, Aboriginal enterprises and Aboriginal elders will emerge, and from which the Redfern All Blacks can draw a team.



Geoff Turnbull is a co-spokesperson for REDWatch.

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