Since the 1840s, Sydney’s housing development has historically
followed cyclical pattern of booms – in which large areas of
poor quality housing were hastily erected on vacant land – and
busts, in which poverty and misery combined with rapidly deteriorating
and unserviced housing to create traditional slum areas. The first
economic and population boom during the 1850s was followed by a depression
during the 1860s, in which Sydney’s first large slum areas emerged.
From 1906, the resident population began to fall in inner-city slum
areas and some areas were razed to make way for commercially profitable
redevelopments, especially factories and warehouses. Secondary employment
centres began to be constructed further afield as the city expanded.
The post-World War II wave of assisted immigration tripled Sydney’s
population within 50 years. Huge new, sprawling single-family homes
in suburban areas were built, assisted by housing loans at concessional
interest rates, and home ownership
rates soared to 70 per cent by 1960. The construction of urban services
at these low densities was expensive and providers had a great deal
of trouble keeping up. By 1970, it appeared that the whole inner-city
area would be completely redeveloped for business purposes and that
the working-class inhabitants would be displaced. However, inner-city
areas with their historical precincts came to be seen as better located
and more colourful than suburbia, and most inner-city slum areas were
steadily redeveloped, sometimes by building new houses, but more often
by refurbishing. The wave of gentrification spread south over the
next 30 years to encompass much of the south Sydney local government
area, though improvement has been patchy and still eludes some areas.
Land became too expensive for industry and much of it has relocated
to the outer west. The century-long population flow out of the inner
areas has reversed: between 1995 and 2000, the population of Sydney’s
inner suburbs grew by an average of 15 per cent each year, which was
among the fastest growth in the country.
There is no official definition of slums. The term is regarded as
offensive and is rarely used. Three types of area with relatively
dilapidated housing are considered:
1 Inner-city former slums, now partly
2 Extensive public-sector estates toward the periphery.
Areas with cheap housing, centred about 20 kilometres to the
south-west of the central business district (CBD), where many new
immigrants and other
disadvantaged groups live.
The inner areas are mostly private rental with an increasing proportion
of homeowners and some public housing. The estates are primarily public
housing, with some ‘right-to-buy’ownership and private
rental, In some places, housing associations are becoming established.
The immigrant areas have a good proportion of home-ownership and public
housing, but private rental is increasing.
Apart from a few run-down suburban blocks and areas, Sydney no longer
has any slums as is normally conceived, although there are many areas
where disadvantaged people live in high concentrations. Its traditional
inner-city slum areas have moved from squalor to mixed-income status,
with high proportions both of advantaged and disadvantaged people
and culturally disparate groups. The city is shaped by multiculturalism
and a fairly profound spatial separation of social and income groups
– mediated through globalization – through which the slums
of the future might possibly emerge. There are large deteriorating
tracts of poorly maintained public housing estates near the outskirts
that form the focus of most social interventions for the disadvantaged.
To the south-west of Sydney stretches some 60 kilometres of flat suburban
sprawl, standing in sharp contrast to the wealth and privilege of
the northern suburbs. Here, the bulk of population increase is taking
place, where the new immigrants increasingly settle, and the disadvantaged
can find affordable housing and support mechanisms. The city is fairly
clearly dividing between a ‘new economy’ around the CBD
area, and an ‘old economy’ of poor households ringed by
suburban families to the west.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the gap between the rich and the poor
widened considerably, although in absolute terms everyone was better
off. With regard to the three ‘slum’ types:
1Despite gentrification and the impact
of higher income or shared professional households, lowincome people
still live in significant concentrations in inner Sydney. It is the
middle class and families that are absent in their usual numbers.
Market rent policies have caused average incomes to fall rapidly in
the old public housing estates, and most people are on pensions and
benefits. Single mothers are particularly prevalent.
3 Ethnic groups improve their status with time and move to
better suburbs, so that successive waves of new immigrants tend to
occupy the cheapest housing – currently, Vietnamese, Lebanese
and Somalis. Studies have shown no essential difference between second-generation
immigrants and the general
The two major governmental housing programmes are public housing (mostly
post-1945) and rent assistance (since the late 1980s), as well as
very large programmes of concessional housing loans to lower middle-income
groups from 1945 to 1990 – although these have become less necessary
due to low interest rates and secondary mortgage markets. From the
late 1970s, public housing became ‘welfare housing’ and
is now restricted almost entirely to the most disadvantaged groups,
who are heavily subsidized. During the late 1980s, it became obvious
that public housing construction was never going to keep up with increasing
demand, and that the majority of disadvantaged people would remain
in the private rental sector. Rent assistance has become the largest
housing programme, with national outlays of about US$700 million,
compared with US$550 million for public housing. Housing policy has
been in something of an impasse for a decade, with the Commonwealth
unwilling to take responsibility for the public housing deficit from
the states (which would enable the states to expand the stock).
The marginalization of public housing has resulted in many social
problems on the larger estates, and the lack of rent-paying middle-class
households has reduced operational funds below the level required
for sustainability. Almost no
new public housing is being constructed in Sydney, with capital funds
now devoted to upgrading existing estates. In the meantime, with continuing
work-force restructuring, family breakdown and population aging contributing
to polarization, the demand for public housing continues to grow.
Some joint ventures with the private sector to build more affordable
housing have been tried, but these have been small scale. Cooperation
between tenants and a housing association in one estate to police
social problems and improve run-down housing has reduced social problems
considerably. Joint programmes between state departments of housing,
health, education and social welfare to provide a comprehensive improvement
strategy for problem areas are taking place.
has been extracted from:
UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge
of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies',