Affordable Housing vs Gentrification

As millennials, we’ve heard the term gentrification for most of our adult lives. Taking once-derelict buildings and run-down neighbourhoods and transforming them over the years into some of the most desired locations for young professionals to live. Areas like Brooklyn in New York, the Docklands in East London, and Surrey Hills in Sydney, were all once either industrial areas or more affordable boroughs than their centrally-located counterparts.

But while you can be sure of getting a vegan meal and an outstanding soy latte, did these areas benefit from gentrification, or has the hipster movement all-but eradicated affordable housing?

Surrey Hills in Sydney has been home to colonial blue bloods in opulent villas and townhouses, but it has also sheltered the poor in dark basements and attics of appalling meanness. Image source

Gentrified Sydney

Known as the second-least affordable city in the world, Sydney residents are struggling to hold onto what little affordable housing they have. In 2017, a government-back revitalisation project planned to turn a beloved architectural icon into a new private real estate development. The waterfront Sirius building in the Sydney suburb of Millers Point, was one of the city’s few social housing developments.

The Sirius building overlooking The Rocks in Sydney, is being sold off to private developers. Photograph by Katherine Lu - Save Our Sirius.

After the New South Wales government decided in 2014 that the land was too valuable to leave as it is, 400 of the area’s residents were informed their government housing was to be sold to private developers, and in the nearby suburbs of Waterloo and Redfern, 4,000 social housing residents were also facing forced relocation.

The Sirius building overlooking The Rocks in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: Barton Taylor/Save Our Sirius

Karen Brown spoke to The Guardian about her experience living on the Waterloo estate,

“The demographics of the private housing have changed,” she says. “It used to be a pretty undesirable area – sharehouses with students and young people who didn’t have lots of money. Now they’re getting bought and renovated by professionals on high incomes, and they’re just out of the price range.”

Gentrification pushing up house prices

The Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst has been one of gentrification’s biggest “success” stories, with the majority of its residents up until the year 2000 being mostly working-class singles and families. With a significant homeless population, Darlinghurst was one of the city’s “go-to” areas for prostitution and drugs, with property prices extremely low and many considering the area unsavoury.

There are concerns Darlinghurst may be losing some of the colour that once made it attractive to outsiders. Photo: Christopher Pearce

The suburb’s grittiness, Art Deco apartment buildings, and the unique restaurant strip along Victoria Street began to entice waves of gentrifiers about 15 years ago. And thanks to gentrification, the median house price in the suburb has soared an incredible 124 per cent (according to Domain Group data), compared to Greater Sydney’s 82.5 per cent median house growth.

Its proximity to central Sydney has made it an ideal place for young professionals and urbane older couples. And though this has caused the prostitutes and drug-dealers to relocate, it has meant the same for the working class singles and families.

Is gentrification good for a city?

Gentrification is typically thought to improve the quality of a neighborhood, while at the same time its biggest drawback is the potential forced-relocation of not just current residents, but established businesses too. It has also been shown to significantly shift a neighbourhood’s ethnic composition and average household income with the development of new, more expensive residential and commercial property.

Early “gentrifiers” are often low-income creative types; once artists and bohemians, modern gentrifiers are young entrepreneurs and startups. The so-called “cool crowd” of a city then raise the level of interest in living in certain areas, pushing up the rents as well as demand for new properties there. This leads to increased investment in a community and the related infrastructure by real estate development businesses, local government, or community members.

When done right, gentrification results in economic development, increased attraction of business, and lower crime rates, but at the same time causes population migration and displacement.

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