The NSW Government is proposing to demolish social housing complexes in Glebe to build high-rise buildings, so one church is advocating on behalf of the community to stop this from happening and spend the funds on supporting the current residents.
St John’s Church has been providing emergency assistance to the community through its Glebe Assistance Partnership Program (GAPP).
Senior minister Mark Wormell said the church exists to help its neighbours and these proposed changes have been creating increased anxiety for the people currently living in Glebe social housing estates – on the land the Government is planning to redevelop.
“We help them in all sorts of ways; we help them with practical help, we help them by being the church,” he told Hope 103.2.
“We help them in the issues that they’re dealing with. So, a major issue that they’re dealing with is the urban culture that they live in.”
Changing the character of Glebe
In December last year, the NSW Government awarded a contract to community housing provider Bridge Housing to manage the 35 social housing units around Cowper Street and Wentworth Park Road in Glebe.
The plan is to demolish the homes to make way for a new development that will deliver 74 new social and private homes in Glebe.
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The Government has also proposed to renew the Franklyn Street social housing estate and rebuild it with 425 dwellings – 70 per cent would be private residences with the rest being social housing, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.
Mr Wormell is concerned this could change the character of Glebe.
“The whole character of Glebe could change over the next 10 to 20 years as they gradually remove social housing,” he said.
“There may still be the same level of social housing or even an increased amount but the whole feel and fabric of the place will change.”
Mr Wormell believes most of the buildings can be preserved.
“It’s certainly capable of being retained and restored rather than demolished and us getting high-rise blocks in a low-rise suburb,” he said.
The project “will almost double the number of social housing dwellings across the sites.” – a spokesperson for NSW Land and Housing Corporation
However, a spokesperson for NSW Land and Housing Corporation – the department responsible for this project – said this will not be an issue.
“Inspired by historic brick woolstore buildings and Glebe’s iconic Victorian terraces, the project demonstrates how well-designed new housing can blend seamlessly into an historic urban environment,” they told Hope 103.2.
Impact on the community
“They’re obviously very anxious about when they will be moved, where they will be moved to and whether they will be able to come back, so they’re living in a state of anxiety,” – Mark Wormell, Senior Minister of St John’s Church
According to the Government, the project “will almost double the number of social housing dwellings across the sites” from 19 existing to 35 new dwellings, but Mr Wormell believes the money would be better spent elsewhere.
“We don’t see the need to massively expand the number of people living in Glebe. We’d rather them spend the money in looking after the people who are already there,” he said.
According to Mr Wormell, the project is already having negative impacts on the people, particularly among people with mental health problems.
“They’re obviously very anxious about when they will be moved, where they will be moved to and whether they will be able to come back, so they’re living in a state of anxiety,” he said.
“We don’t see the need to massively expand the number of people living in Glebe. We’d rather them spend the money in looking after the people who are already there.” – Mark Wormell, Senior Minister of St John’s Church
The NSW Government said it is working with existing residents to find suitable alternative housing and will keep them informed as the project progresses.
“[They] will be notified at least six months before they will be required to move. Residents will be supported through the relocation process and will be able to return to the new development when it opens,” a spokesperson said.
“At all stages of the relocation process, the ongoing safety and welfare of residents is always our main priority.”
The City of Sydney is currently reviewing submissions made during the public exhibition of the Cowper Street project.
The NSW Government spokesperson also said that “if approved, delivery of the project will also provide a timely boost to the local economy, with around 160 jobs supported during the construction phase”.
The Franklyn Street project is in the very early stages of the planning process. It will likely be at least two years before residents will be required to relocate, according to a spokesperson.
Church’s history with social housing
St John’s Church has a long association with social housing. Before the Whitlam government came in, the church owned a lot of land in Glebe, including most of the social housing areas, Mr Wormell said.
“The church wasn’t a very good landlord; it didn’t look after the buildings, it just didn’t have the capital that was needed to maintain the quality of the housing, so it was in a pretty shabby state,” he said.
In the 1970s, when the Whitlam government came in, the church sold all that land to the Federal Government, Mr Wormell said.
The Federal Government spent considerable money and time fixing up the housing before selling it to the NSW Government in the 1980s.
“It’s just a really good way of being able to expand our conversations with people from what they need in the physical way to what their emotional and spiritual needs are.” – Mark Wormell, Senior Minister of St John’s Church
GAPP has been running for over 15 years. In the three years that Mr Wormell has been with the church, he has seen an increase of people coming from this ministry to join their Sunday service.
“It’s just a really good way of being able to expand our conversations with people from what they need in the physical way to what their emotional and spiritual needs are,” he said.
This year, St John’s is looking to grow this ministry by providing more art therapy sessions and running new cooking classes to teach people how to make meals out of the contents within the food parcels, which are distributed to those in need.