CommentOpinion

The promise of Pemulwuy

The Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) has been working on its Pemulwuy project plans for some time now. The AHC has released the following Q&A in response to criticism and confusion regarding the project. More information is available on the AHC website and visits to the AHC office on The Block are welcome.

What is Pemulwuy?

Pemulwuy will be a vibrant community with affordable Aboriginal housing, businesses and community facilities.

The first stage of the Pemulwuy Project will include development of student housing, commercial and retail space and a childcare centre. The second stage will be the development of affordable Aboriginal housing.

Pemulwuy will breathe new life into The Block, and restore a strong and healthy Indigenous community to Redfern with an emphasis on cultural values, spirituality and employment.

We want our community to come together to realise this vision – we are stronger together.

Will Aboriginal people still live on The Block?
Yes. Pemulwuy includes plans for 62 affordable accommodations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people only. The Block will remain in Aboriginal hands, totally owned by the Aboriginal Housing Company.

Why are you re-developing The Block?
We recognise that we can’t go back to the dysfunction that previously was a feature of life on The Block, where we couldn’t provide a safe environment for families and older people. Redeveloping our land affords us the opportunity for self-determination and to build a stronger platform for future generations. Keeping the AHC in total control of our own destiny.

Why don’t you just develop housing – why are you developing a commercial centre as well?
Pemulwuy needs to be delivered in these two stages to ensure that it is financially viable and that the long-term goal of affordable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing is able to be achieved.

How will you fund the new Affordable Housing?
Affordable Housing is not easily able to be funded commercially because rent income would not cover loan repayments and operating costs. Affordable Housing rents are generally tied to people’s income not the market rent.

Most new Affordable Housing in NSW has been built with funds from the federal government such as under the Rudd government Stimulus Package. Some, like that undertaken by City West, comes from levies placed on other developers by Council.

The AHC is still pursuing funding for the construction of the Affordable Housing. Those who want to see Affordable Housing on The Block should be lobbying the federal and state governments for such funds for this project.

If the AHC exists to provide housing, why is it doing commercial buildings?
Finding money to build Affordable Housing is one part of the problem, the other is maintaining it once it is operational. When tenants are paying low rents, not commercial ones, there is not sufficient income from rents to maintain buildings and to cover operating costs.

The government has the same problem with public housing. There needs to be a “subsidy” from somewhere for Affordable Housing to be viable for the long term.

The AHC has taken the next step to create a business model which creates a diversification of income from the commercial component of the Pemulwuy project to FUND the affordable housing on The Block and beyond. Our plans will allow us to break away from that vicious cycle of being dependent on the government.

Why is there student housing in the project?
The site is close to a number of universities and colleges and there is strong demand for student housing. AHC research indicated that provision of student housing would be a viable commercial enterprise, the profits from which will be used to subsidise the Affordable Housing and the AHC’s operations.

This is a commercial enterprise to make the AHC and our Affordable Housing financially independent of government funds in the long term.

Will the houses just be for middle-class, better off Aboriginal people?
No, we have planned for a mixture of affordable housing. Of course, like all our housing, we expect people to meet their responsibilities as tenants and to be part of a safe community.

Is there a commercial car park in the plans?
No, there is no commercial car parking because Council objected to it in an earlier version of the plans. The only parking is for AHC tenants.

Does any other identity own the land?
No, the Aboriginal Housing Company is the developer, and we own the land. We have engaged a construction company to build the project, but we retain control of the project and ownership of the land, once again allowing the AHC to stand alone without government dependency.

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