Barr government's urban renewal leads to 'accidental' gentrification of Canberra

Barr government's urban renewal leads to 'accidental' gentrification of Canberra

The Barr government's urban renewal program may be "accidentally" leading to gentrification of Canberra's city, pushing public housing tenants to areas with less amenity, the community sector says.

But ACT Council of Social Services' executive director Susan Helyer said she did not believe the government was intentionally trying to push hundreds of public housing tenants out of the city.

ACT Council of Social Services executive director Susan Helyer says the government's urban renewal has 'accidentally' gentrified Canberra's centre.

ACT Council of Social Services executive director Susan Helyer says the government's urban renewal has 'accidentally' gentrified Canberra's centre.Credit:Rohan Thomson

Since 2014, the government has been overhauling Canberra's public housing stock by demolishing large long-term public housing blocks in an "urban renewal precinct" along the Northbourne Avenue and in the city.

Those blocks have largely already been sold off to private developers, which are redeveloping the land to house multi-storey apartment buildings, while the tenants are being moved to newer, smaller public housing lots across the city.


While Ms Helyer said the social sector was not uncomfortable with higher density in some areas, or the renewal program overall, she said it needed to be well-designed and ensure "against gentrification that crowds people out" of the city centre.

She said the sector believed the government's regulations and social policies "demonstrates a commitment to diversity", but the renewal program was unintentionally leading to gentrification.

"I think it's happens when government, both elected officials and bureaucratic officials, aren't deliberate enough and recognise where diversity can be eroded as a consequence of other decisions," she said.

"Our view is that gentrification is defined by reducing the diversity of residents, because you create higher cost housing and that's a problem because usually gentrification is driven by people moving to a place with public and social amenity.

"Our view is that the older areas of canberra with good amenities in terms of services, shops, community facilities, green space and liveability and access to work is something that is actually more important for lower income households to have access to."

Ms Helyer's comments come as the government this week released new housing affordability targets across the territory, which showed no new public housing planned this financial year for the urban renewal precinct.

The government has maintained that was because there were already higher proportions of such housing in those suburbs.

But Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur raised concerns that across the ACT the proportion had dropped from about 7.5 per cent of all new releases to 3.5 per cent, which was halving the number of new sites for public, social and community housing.

Ms Helyer said that the sector backed the principle of sustainable development, and the policy aims to "salt and pepper" public housing across the city, but the government needed to ensure people were moved to places with enough services.

She also said that while the government's proposed 530-odd new sites for such housing was welcome this year, the sector has been calling for thousands of sites to start to reach the high demand for places.

Acting chief minister Yvette Berry said that "urban renewal means a better city for everyone".

"It's creating more jobs and better homes for Canberrans," she said.

"The public housing renewal program is an important part of urban renewal and is providing better quality homes for people in need. Supporting diverse communities benefits everyone."

Daniel Burdon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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