Housing redevelopment under pressure amid community concerns

Housing redevelopment under pressure amid community concerns
Brendan Rees

The redevelopment of a former public housing estate in North Melbourne has come under criticism due to its reported delays, a lack of updates, and community consultative committee members “treated very poorly”.

The housing project, Academy North Melbourne, at Abbotsford St is part of the state government’s Public Housing Renewal Program, which has so far seen 112 public housing dwellings built in the 1950s demolished at the estate.

They will be replaced with 300 new apartments for private buyers, including 133 social housing units, under a state government partnership with developer MAB Corporation. The social housing units will be managed by Housing First when the development is complete.

But the project – which is wedged between the new North Melbourne Molesworth St primary school campus – has come under fire in recent months, with many expressing concerns about the development’s lack of progress after the social housing component was initially planned for completion by the middle of this year.

Sources familiar with the project also say very few apartments have reportedly been sold on the corner of Molesworth St and Abbotsford St, with construction yet to start and a “redesign” of the development believed to be under way. It is understood construction won’t begin until 70 per cent of the units have been pre-sold. The government was sought for comment on these issues.

A spokesperson for MAB Corporation told North West City News the project had “experienced a slower than expected sales rate given challenging market conditions, resulting in delayed construction of the project”.

“In light of the market conditions, the project’s existing design and product mix is under review. Given the delays to construction and the design review currently under way, MAB is working closely with purchasers of apartments at Academy North Melbourne to provide alternative options to assist with their individual circumstances.”

Some members of the government-convened community consultative committee, which was established to meet every six weeks for updates on the progress of the project and to raise feedback, say they have been “treated very poorly” by the government with a lack of transparency and updates, as well as “minutes rarely reflecting any robust discussions that came up”.

Committee members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they “came to the table in good faith with the hope of making a significant contribution to the project but those aspirations were thwarted because the government wasn’t listening”.

A former resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said they were “forcibly removed” from the estate and had struggled to get information about their right to return including a timeline. The resident now lives in a home that was much too small and they felt really isolated from their community.  

A Homes Victoria spokesperson said there was “no delay to the delivery of the homes at the Abbotsford St site” with the project to also provide a community room and improved public open space.

“Construction works are proceeding in accordance with the approved program, which will see the social housing homes completed in early 2024,” the spokesperson said, adding it would be well-designed, modern, and sustainable homes that will improve the area.

“The market housing will be delivered in two stages, with the townhouse stage on track for completion in early 2024 and the market apartment stage anticipated to be completed in late 2026.”

 

Greens State MP for Melbourne Ellen Sandell, who has been working closely with concerned community members and former estate residents, said the loss of public housing at Abbotsford St was a “travesty”.

 

“We are in a housing crisis, with over 130,000 people waiting for a public housing unit, yet all Labor has done is give more profits to property developers while the public housing wait-list gets longer and longer,” she said.

A concerned parent at the primary school said trucks had previously blocked pathways and access to the school, while also blowing up dust into the playground on windy days. They now wondered what mitigation plans were in place going forward.

“We’re concerned because it’s our understanding that they’re going to build something and we don’t know what’s happening,” they said.

The City of Melbourne said it had worked with builder ARC3 to ensure development at 10-36 Haines St was safe and disruption reduced, including clear access for pedestrians and school children on the footpath from 7am to 9am, and forklifts delivering materials using the footpath between 9am and 2.30pm.  •

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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