Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Centenary of public housing in New South Wales

On this day 100 years ago, the NSW State Governor signed into law the Housing Act 1912 (NSW), thus founding the public housing system in New South Wales.

The Housing Act 1912 was introduced by State Labor Treasurer, and long-time housing advocate, John Rowland Dacey. His government already had a public housing project in mind: a development of 400 acres of sandhills south of Kensington, that had been reserved for the Church of England. Just a week after introducing the Housing Act, Dacey died, and the public housing project – Daceyville – inherited his name.

(John Rowland Dacey)

This would not be the first time that the NSW State Government had been involved in the provision of rental housing: it owned and let houses at The Rocks and Millers Point, through the offices of the Sydney Harbour Trust. But there it was an incidental – even accidental – landlord, having acquired the houses when it resumed the area for sanitary redevelopment following an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1900.

What was new and distinctive about the Housing Act 1912 was that it provided for the planned purchase of land and the construction, sale and letting of housing by a dedicated government housing agency – the Housing Board – with the deliberate objective of improving housing. As Dacey said in debate on the legislation:

We propose to establish a garden city, and to offer the people healthy conditions for living. It has been truthfully said that the city beautiful will yield big dividends to the nation. We propose to establish a city beautiful, which Australians abroad will be able to point to with pride and say, ‘There, that is how Australia builds its garden cities.’ (NSW Parliamentary Debates, 28 February 1912)

For more on the Housing Act 1912 and Daceyville, we'll let the late great tenants advocate and housing scholar, Harvey Volke, tell the story (beware: that's a 7M download; alternatively, you can google up a cached HTML version).

Happy 100th birthday, public housing.

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