Expert provides international perspective on public housing debate

Date: 06/04/2009

An international expert, currently based at the University of Western Sydney, says governments and community planners could be going down the wrong path by renewing Sydney public housing estates.

Professor George Galster, from Wayne State University in Detroit, is a leading researcher and analyst of the social effects of public housing redevelopments and Visiting Professor for the UWS Social Justice Social Change Research Centre.

He says the reinvention of low income and public housing areas of Sydney, such as Minto, Claymore and Redfern, may do more harm than good to residents.

"All over the world, governments are realising that the concentration of large quantities of public housing into segregated sites is a horrendous blunder," says Professor Galster.

"In an attempt to fix the situation, many public housing estates are undergoing massive overhauls. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the renewal projects will be anything more than band-aid fixes to fundamental problems."

Professor Galster says the renewal projects that are currently underway in Sydney are reminiscent of the HOPE VI project, in which areas of public housing in the United States have been completely knocked down and rebuilt.

"The aim of the HOPE VI project is to make these estates clean, new and attractive places to live and, by increasing the social and economic diversity of the neighbourhoods, provide opportunities for residents to improve their lives and reduce the instance of gang violence, crime and graffiti," says Professor Galster.

Professor Galster believes there has not been sufficient research to suggest residents' lives will actually be improved.

"The large scale redevelopments may bring aesthetic improvements and - for some - economic benefits. However, when public housing is replaced by private and higher income residences, the result is often that low income families will no longer have an affordable, decent place to live.

"For these people, who are ultimately forced from their neighbourhoods, the impact of renewal projects can be overwhelmingly negative."

Before more renewal projects are commissioned, Professor Galster cautions research must be done to determine whether the anticipated positive changes in the community outweigh the potential disruption to people's lives.



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