Thursday, February 18, 2016

Let's walk the talk in Waterloo

Today's entry on The Brown Couch is by Julie Foreman, Executive Officer at the Tenants' Union of NSW. 

Last Thursday (February 11), I attended a public meeting on the redevelopment of the Waterloo public housing estates hosted by Jenny Leong MP, one of two Members of Parliament representing the suburb. Over one hundred local tenants attended. Also in attendance was the Social Housing Minister, Brad Hazzard MP, shadow Social Housing Minister Tania Mihailuk MP, and FACS Deputy Secretary Southern Cluster, Paul Vevers. I was heartened by the level of interest and attendance by all stakeholders.

Can the Government balance competing interests and walk the talk in Waterloo?

Tenants expressed anxiety and confusion about the announcement. The following snippets capture the questions and concerns raised:
“Is my home being demolished?”
When will I be moving?”
“Where will I be moving to?”
“Will I get a like-for-like house when I move?”
"Why do I have to lose my home, my community, my security?"
“I feel like my life will be on hold for the next 5 years."
“How are you going to deal with all the extra parking needed?”
“I am afraid of moving away from my health supports and friends”
“Will you cover my moving costs?”
“Why didn’t you take the last 10 years of consultations into account?”
“You just sprung it on us before Christmas with a flyer under my door!”
The Minister suggested to participants that meetings such as these just scare and raise anxiety. I believe they reflect honest and real concerns.
Unfortunately, the issues raised do not surprise me – they are what I have heard at every gathering (large, small or one on one) of social housing tenants facing or experiencing redevelopment. I heard it in Riverwood, Bonnyrigg, Minto, Claymore, and Ivanhoe. This is not to deny that there are also some tenants who want to move, in the hope of changing their overall circumstances.
What did surprise me was that FACS Housing and the Minister had not anticipated this response, and adjusted their usual announcement process accordingly. The public housing agency has been through this a number of times, and assures us over and over that they have learnt from their mistakes. 
The Minister did assure us at the meeting that he would make sure those affected in Waterloo would be treated sensitively, and be consulted at every step along the way. I am not yet cynical enough to believe that he was just ‘talking the talk’ and not prepared to ‘walk the walk’. That is because Minister Hazzard and Mr Vevers did make some commitments. He agreed that additional supports for tenants would be needed during this period. He agreed that with a local, annual turnover rate of between 8-9% of public housing tenants, those affected by redevelopment works could be rehoused within the area as works progressed. He indicated that he would personally hold regular, local consultations. And he said there would be no rush to relocate tenants. He even committed to answering questions raised at the meeting at a consultation he is to host this week.
So here at the TU we have put together a list to help all of us - tenants, FACS Housing, Minister Hazard, and community organisations - ‘walk the talk’, and thus increase the prospect of sensitive, appropriate and effective redevelopment. Collective learning from research commissioned by FACS Housing, built on consultations over a number of years with tenant groups and the non-government sector, informs the list:
- Acknowledge the strengths and history of the existing community;
- Progressively move people within the estate as new buildings are constructed;
- Undertake a social impact assessment to inform the best plans and processes for tenants and their communities;
- Fund additional supports and independent tenant advice while maintaining funding of existing services and supports;
- Include genuine community empowerment and involvement at appropriate levels;
- Don’t give undertakings that cannot be met;
- Make available past plans or reports on consultations, to enable tenants to participate in informed discussions;
- Make sure communication is clear, regular and takes place in different forms;
- Provide additional training and support to FACS Housing staff tasked with working as relocation officers. This training should include presentations from tenants who have lived through the experience of redevelopment in other areas;
- Undertake ongoing evaluation;
- Follow up and support tenants that have moved;
- Carefully consider allocations to ensure they are appropriate;
- Listen to tenants and treat them with respect! This sounds easy but is anything but if really taken seriously.
Similarly, research and past experiences have provided evidence on practices to avoid – worst practice principles, if you like. So on this note, be sure not to engage in:
- Tokenism in forming partnerships and building community involvement;
- Short-term 'quick fixes'. Good outcomes take time;
- Public representations and narratives of disadvantaged locations, which entrench the problem by exaggerating an area's dysfunction;
- Actions which merely displace the problem. Projects that merely move people to new locations do not solve problems of poverty and disadvantage.
Read more about what the experts say about best and worst practice in redevelopments here.

1 comment:

  1. It will be really important with Waterloo that residents keep united.


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