Rumors have been mooted for years on both sides of politics, but today the NSW government has confirmed it will be selling public housing in the Rocks, in inner Sydney. This will raise oodles of money for the government; many of these properties have prime harbour views and will fetch millions on the open market. Most of the properties are old, and require a tonne of maintenance, and these residents aren't really the image of the global city of Sydney we want to present, are they? They have to go. I can see this being a very popular decision. Why should poor people get to live in such a desirable location, anyway?
In looking at all the reasons why selling off these houses is a terrible idea, we have to go back a bit. Many of the residents have been living in their houses for decades - and they moved in at a time when the Rocks wasn't a desirable location. Historically, Sydney Harbour was very much a working harbour - with all the pollution, docks, and industrial infrastructure that came with it. The Harbour was seen as dirty, and smelly, and only poor people lived in close vicinity; better off people preferred garden suburbs away from all that mess. Where better to stick public housing residents than the waterfront? Now that Sydney has become a place where people would sell their kids to Piers Akerman as sex slaves for a glimpse of a harbour view, those residents are finding themselves moved on to cater for the changing fortunes of an economy they cannot possibly participate in.
Times do change, of course, so if we expect these disadvantaged and (often) elderly people to move with them, what happens? They're uprooted from the community they've been part of for decades, away from family, friends, familiar shops and parks, medical care, and find themselves isolated, tossed out to some development in Reiby or Bidwill, far from the city, where the rest of us don't have to look at them. It's only increasing their disadvantage, the isolation, lack of transport and facilities. We've tried this before, and it didn't work. Back in the 1960s, "slums" of public housing in the inner city were cleared out, residents uprooted from Surry Hills, Glebe, Darlinghurst, Waterloo, and sent out to shiny new estates in places such as Claymore. It was done with the very best of intentions. No more mouldy, crowded terraces, no more pollution, there'll be fresh air and sunshine and space for kids to ride their bikes. But of course, with communities destroyed, lack of transport, shops and facilities, the conditions for disadvantage were built in. It was a disaster, with the ABC reporting on the crime, depression and despair in the area as early as 1980, a handful of years after it was completed. I really wish the ministers involved would read that report. Have we learned nothing at all from history?
That's all well and good, they say, but why should public housing residents get to live in such a great location when I can't afford it? Well, look at it this way. Will selling public housing make it any more affordable for you? (Of course not, other way around, prices will go up). Will you sleep easier at night knowing that public housing residents are out past Mount Druitt, and investment bankers have taken their place? Will your life benefit at all, in any way, from this action? Don't be petty. It won't.
I hope it's not too late for the government to change their minds, but I suspect it is. As I said, this is likely to be a popular decision with very little backlash. Who cares about poor people after all? I worry though, these problems always end up costing more to fix in the long run - financially, emotionally. I know there will always be jobs for community workers to try to patch these things up, but I kind of wish there wasn't.
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