Text from Greater Sydney Commission plan reads: "This is a significant growth opportunity for Greater Sydney as a global city representing business confidence and economic growth. We do however need to plan for how Greater Sydney attracts and accommodates these jobs in the right locations - the kind of places that we know are supported by land use and infrastructure investment and are attractive from a commercial perspective..."
These videos feature the voices of public housing residents in Sydney's Waterloo and Miller's Point who are resisting relocation, showing why we need a system that considers housing a human right not a profitable investment.
Sydney is the second most expensive city in the world and a great example of what happens when a city prioritizes global economic competition over the housing needs of its residents. It is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis that is excluding low- and middle-income earners from the city. Most government officials would blame this on lack of supply, which justifies them permitting developers to build more notoriously low quality high rises. Many people would point to speculation and foreign investment practices, which is not only lacking regulation but encouraged by a policy called “negative gearing.” This allows people to avoid paying taxes on a second home if they make a loss on it, thus incentivizing the rich to use housing as a profitable place to store their money.
Perusing through some of the city’s master plans, I started to see the affordability crisis as a side effect of the “global city” agenda. A global city is considered an important command center in the global economy, hosting a concentration of high-powered international finance, service and knowledge-based industries. The indexes that rate and compare global cities measure economic power and incentivize them to be attractive to foreign investment. The City of Sydney website boasts its top 20 rankings on most global city indexes and the Greater Sydney Commission’s master plan feature strategies for becoming more of a global city (see collage below for some direct quotes from this plan). The language of global economic competition is even in the motto of the Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan – “green, global and connected”. One of these strategies is the “global arc,” which is a ring through the inner city that the government designated as the priority location for economic activity. As neighborhoods gentrify, the local effects of living in the global city’s global arc are significant. The government is carrying out renewal plans in many of these strategic neighborhoods, which includes privatizing public housing in places like Waterloo and Miller’s Point.
My response to the exclusivity of the global city agenda was to make some collages out of city maps and planning documents. This temporarily eased some of my frustration, but luckily the residents I met in Waterloo and Miller’s Point were doing much more than collage.
Miller’s Point and Waterloo are two communities undergoing massive sell-offs of public housing. They both lie in highly coveted areas within the global arc and were both known for their tightly knit diverse communities and iconic architecture. They received notice that they would have to leave their homes via a letter under the door – Miller’s Point in 2014 and Waterloo in 2016. Residents have come together to oppose relocation, propose alternatives, and at the very least advocate for better consultation.
The video below features clips from a walk around Miller’s Point with Barney Gardner, a lifelong resident and lead campaigner who has refused to leave until the painful relocation process is over for his entire community.
When I heard the Waterloo Public Housing Action Group had weekly open meetings I decided to start showing up to see if I could support somehow. This is where I met Clare Lewis, the director of an exciting community arts and documentary project called #WeLiveHere2017 which I ended up doing some editing for. The project aims to put a human face to public housing and encourage resistance to Waterloo’s rapid gentrification. They are distributing colored mood lights throughout the towers, turning them into giant public art projects that will raise awareness about the issue. The series features some “mini portraits” of residents I edited for the project’s crowd funding campaign (my personal favorite, Betty and Jan, featured below).
While it was inspiring to see tenants reclaiming their voices, the housing officials didn’t seem to listen. These practices send a clear message to lower income residents that they are not as desirable as residents who can pay market rate – they do not have the same right to the global city. The privatization of public housing is just one example of why we need to restructure our housing system so that it is no longer considered a commodity to attract investors but a human right.