Illawarra's public housing fight heads south

The Illawarra-based Public Housing Union will next take its fight to Wollongong’s southern suburbs in its attempt to highlight issues surrounding public housing in the region.

On Wednesday evening, protesters gathered at the Wollongong Golf Club to picket a planned auction of two northern suburbs public housing properties, one at Bulli and one at Woonona, but the auctions were cancelled. 

The union is angry that many of the northern suburbs properties – some of which have been home to good tenants for decades – are being sold purely for their speculative values and the sell-off was reducing the region’s public housing stock.

Fight pledged over public housing sell-off

Union spokesman Paul Matters said the fact the auction was first switched from an on-site auction and then cancelled was proof the government’s policy was controversial and unpopular.

Mr Matters said the next step of the campaign was to highlight the under-use of properties in the southern Illawarra, in suburbs such as Unanderra and Berkeley, where some houses had sat unoccupied for years and were simply being left to decline.

Mr Matters said if the government was replacing these houses with units, it would be different but the houses were falling into disrepair, while well-maintained and occupied northern suburbs houses were being sold.

Housing NSW’s operations manager for southern NSW Paul Vevers said when it came to selling properties in the Illawarra’s north,  it was a matter of the department trying to maximise the dollar.

‘‘The carefully planned sales of high-value properties is a really sensible strategy to increase the amount of social housing,’’ he said. ‘‘The biggest issue we face is we have 1770 people on the waiting list in Wollongong and 650 between Kiama and Shellharbour. 

We need to make the very best use of resources we can; it isn’t necessary for us to have housing near the beach and that applies to Bulli and Woonona, there are other areas where we can redevelop our properties and house people in desperate need.

‘‘Houses in Woonona go for $600,000 to $700,000.

‘‘It costs us half of that to build a new unit fully equipped for people with disability.

‘‘Some houses are at an age where they are too expensive to upgrade or maintain.’’

Mr Vevers said a program of works would follow.

‘‘The money from the sales is ring-fenced, it has to go to social housing,’’ he said.

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