Communities Plus – dead, buried and cremated or a lurking zombie?

Shelter NSW has welcomed the NSW Government’s commitment to introduce a mandatory requirement for 30% of all homes built on surplus government land to be set aside for social, affordable and universal housing. But the jury is still out as to whether the failed Communities Plus model previously applied to existing public housing estates has been truly killed off.

Minister Jackson (right) outlined the underlying principles that will be used in making a decision about Waterloo and other public housing redevelopments at a REDWatch housing forum on June 5. Photo: Lyn Turnbull

Over the last decade, the model saw existing 100% public housing estates sold and redeveloped for just 30% social housing of the usually denser precincts in return. Many of the Communities Plus proposals, like those at Riverwood, Coffs Harbour, South Eveleigh and of course, Waterloo South would have seen very little growth of the public/social housing stock on the same site. Like many, Shelter NSW questioned how the public good was ever going to be served by that model. 

Communities around the state are currently trying to reconcile various statements and commitments from the NSW Government regarding various proposals already underway. None more so than at Australia’s largest public housing estate in Waterloo, where tenants have waited years to understand the fate or their tenancies, homes and community. They are still waiting, with a recent community meeting providing a little insight but no certainty. More on that later.

Back in March, prior to the state election, Shelter NSW CEO spoke at length to ABC 7:30 Report journalist about the Waterloo South project. Our hopes then, are our hopes now.

“We certainly hope that whoever wins government in NSW in March, leans in, looks at the policy that is Waterloo and the inner city and our approach to housing and … comes up with a more exemplar opportunity, something that we can all be proud of, rather than say ‘that’s the best we could do’.”

Shelter NSW CEO John Engeler, ABC 7:30 Report March 22

Shelter NSW staff were pleased to join many other community members, tenants, advocates, academics and local residents at a community meeting hosted by REDwatch last week. It was very valuable to have three levels of government speak about housing policy.

All eyes and ears were on Minister Jackson who reiterated the Government’s rejection of the previous plan for Waterloo South, denouncing it as a “bad plan”. Minister Jackson noted that the current procurement process would be allowed to progress to its final stages. After that, the Government would assess what changes could be made in order for the proposal to become something it could support. Minister Jackson went on to describe three key principles that would be applied to the Waterloo South proposal as well as other public housing estate redevelopments:

  • Developments have to provide “a substantial uplift in the number of social and affordable housing”  (the “voice of people on the waiting list is a really important… we want more.”)
  • Developments need to deliver dignity to people through “homes and modern amenity”
  • Government land won’t be sold

Shelter NSW supports each of these principles but would add one more – sometimes it might be smarter and fairer to upgrade rather than redevelop public housing. Renovate rather than detonate.

We can’t think of a better example of this than 82 Wentworth Park Road, Glebe where activists and residents have united to protest the demolition of this (admittedly) tired but surely not redundant public housing site, home to some tenants for decades.

For more information:  

  • The outlook for the Waterloo South public housing redevelopment has been accurately recounted by the Chair of REDWatch Geoff Turnbull in the South Sydney Herald: Minister looks to rework Waterloo South
  • Audio link to the June 5 REDwatch Housing Policy Agenda Forum featuring Tanya Plibersek, MP for Sydney on the Federal Labor Government’s housing policy. She is followed by the NSW Housing Minister Rose Jackson and the President of the Australian Local Government Association, Linda Scott. At the start of the Q&A session (25 minutes) Rose Jackson provides an update on the NSW government’s approach to public housing redevelopment and Waterloo: REDwatch audio link
  • ABC 7:30 Report news article, 22 March 2023: Public housing residents angry and uncertain over redevelopment
  • Shelter NSW submissions April 2022: Waterloo South Estate Planning Proposal