Aboriginal IssuesEditorialHousingNewsOpinion

Pemulwuy – time for tough decisions

On the night of March 9 the upstairs room of the Redfern Community Centre was packed with people mostly keen to hear the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) explain proposed changes to the student housing component of the Pemulwuy Project.

Unfortunately loud interjections from a small number of people grew into shouting down anyone who spoke, preventing the full presentation and the Q&A session from taking place, and leaving locals frustrated.

When the AHC advised the Department of Planning it wanted to increase the height of the student housing, the government set out what the AHC had to do before this application could be formally considered. One requirement was to engage with the community. A consequence of the meeting disruption is that the AHC will now have to consult in different ways.

Alisi Tutuila, chair of the board, explained to the meeting that the AHC had been unable to get sufficient funding from government to build the affordable housing at the heart of Pemulwuy and that the $5 million offered by the federal government was insufficient to fund the project. The only option remaining is to use some of the land to raise money.

The proposal uses a 99-year lease, not sale, of its land between Eveleigh Street and the railway line for student accommodation (Precinct 3) to pay for the construction of the already approved 62 units of affordable housing and the Tony Mundine Gym on The Block (Precinct 1), and of the childcare centre, the AHC offices and some commercial buildings towards the station (Precinct 2).

The 99-year lease is to be paid upfront to allow the housing on The Block to be built first. Building costs of the student accommodation will be met by the student housing provider, Atira, which will need to meet design excellence requirements set by the Department of Planning. Arrangements have been made for Aboriginal student places in the student housing.

For sufficient funds to be raised, however, the Department of Planning must approve an increase for Precinct 3 to densities similar to the buildings to the east of Redfern station.

The increased height, the lease of some land and the ongoing differences between parts of the Aboriginal community make public-meeting style community engagement fraught for the AHC.

The proposal, however, needs serious discussion and consideration. Governments are not funding Aboriginal projects like they once did and, like Land Councils around the state, Aboriginal organisations need ways to leverage their land to provide economic benefits for their communities. Redfern needs a solution that puts Aboriginal affordable housing back on The Block as soon as possible.

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