Media Release: Residents Blockade Major Intersection to Call for Pedestrian Crossings and Public Transport Infrastructure
On Saturday morning (3 March) from 8:30am, frustrated West End residents will blockade the intersection of Vulture St and Montague Rd for 90 minutes, calling for more investment in pedestrian crossings and public transport services and to protest a 14-storey mega-development at 117 Victoria Street.
The Vulture Street blockade is expected to cause major traffic disruption along Montague Road, but residents say this is nothing compared to what will happen if the council keeps approving highrises without investing in public transport.
Local resident and architect Toby Robinson says he is supportive of urban densification that creates liveable neighbourhoods rather than just maximising developer profits. But he’s concerned that Brisbane City Council is currently doing a poor job of planning for growth. “Building extreme high density without basic infrastructure like public transport, pedestrian crossings and green space is not as sustainable as the property industry would have you believe,” he says. “Low-income apartment dwellers are being forced to accept sub-standard design and planning outcomes - most new inner-city apartments are designed to maximise developer profits rather than maximise quality of life for long-term residents.”
“BCC promised to build a new CityCat terminal near Victoria Street back in 2011 to cater for rapid population growth but it never happened, and now thousands of new apartment residents are stuck in traffic,” Mr Robinson says. “You’re gambling with your life just crossing the road to get to the bus stop because council won’t install a pedestrian crossing.”
“If the council keeps ignoring residents, we’ll have to keep blockading, because the system gives us no other option to have our voices heard.”
Local Councillor Jonathan Sri says BCC has been negligent in failing to install traffic lights at the intersection of Victoria St and Montague Rd, and that it’s only a matter of time before someone is killed. “This is a symptom of a broader problem across the city, where council approves developers to ignore the neighbourhood plan and cram in thousands of new apartments, but then wastes all its money widening roads instead of improving local infrastructure.”
“I am calling for a temporary halt to further high-density development in South Brisbane until BCC delivers basic essential infrastructure like pedestrian crossings, bike lanes and high-capacity public transport.”
“Contrary to government propaganda, mega-developments like the one we see at 117 Victoria Street do not significantly improve affordability for low-income residents,” Councillor Sri says. “We need medium-density public housing – not luxury highrises built for private profit.”
Residents will assemble in Davies Park on Montague Road from 8am, stepping onto the road and occupying the intersection of Vulture Street and Montague Road, West End from 8:30am to 10am. A permit for the blockade has been issued by police. Journalists are advised that traffic will be pretty bad, so we suggest arriving before 8am if travelling by car.
For further comments, contact Toby Robinson on 0423 766 046 or Jonathan Sri on 3403 2165.
Further concerns about the development at 117 Victoria St are outlined at this link.
Footage of the unsafe intersection of Victoria St and Montague Rd is online at this link.
Last week at UQ we held the first of many public forums about renters rights.
We had a solid turnout (about 30 in total) of both local and international uni students, as well as other residents who weren’t connected to UQ but cared deeply about renters rights.
The discussion covered a range of topics including inadequate repairs and maintenance, landlords conducting surprise inspections without proper notice, and the tendency for real estate agents to give minimal notice before seeking to jack up the rent.
It was particularly interesting (but not surprising) to learn that a lot of the international students were paying as much as $150/week per bedroom more than what domestic renters would consider reasonable for the same standard of home. It seems obvious to me that new migrants who know less about Queensland tenancy law and have less access to information about average market rents are particularly prone to exploitation and rent-gouging by landlords and real estate agents.
Through small and large group conversations, we are beginning to crystalise a few key policy demands that seem to go to the core of the many varied issues that renters are concerned about. In particular, there’s a lot of support for some form of rent controls, and for rules against no-grounds evictions (i.e. landlords shouldn’t be able to end your lease if you don’t want to move out unless they’re moving into the home themselves, or are undertaking major renovations). I think we should be pushing for the rule against no-grounds evictions to extend to new owners, so that even if an investor sells a tenanted property, the lease should automatically continue unless the new owner wants to move in themselves or the tenants want to move out. I’m interested to know what other people think of this.
Rules against sharp rent increases and no-grounds evictions would help shift the power balance between tenants and landlords, giving renters more power to insist that landlords fulfil their existing legal obligations in terms of property maintenance etc.
In the immediate term, we have identified a couple of key tactics to put pressure on the political establishment and on landlords/real estate agents directly.
Resisting Evictions into Homelessness
Where we as a collective feel that a particular tenant is being forcibly evicted unfairly and has no safe home to move to, we will engage in civil disobedience to try to prevent such evictions. We need to address the tactical question of whether we will use direct action to resist evictions from privately owned dwellings or only evictions from government housing and community housing.
We also need further discussions about the best ways to organise such actions, because they are often required at very short notice. From time to time, we will need to mobilise activists quickly, and Facebook events/mass text messaging may not be the most efficient way to do this (although public facebook events with a large number of attendees do help manifest power and put pressure on the police).
Naming and Shaming Dodgy Real Estate Agents
Publicly outing the most exploitative real estate agents was widely agreed as an effective tactic, with the caveat that we need to be very certain that our public criticisms are legitimate and fair. It’s almost certain that some of the agents we shame publicly will sue for defamation. I’m happy to put my name to public statements naming dodgy estate agents as long as we’re confident that the criticisms of them are valid.
A suggested process is that when someone complains about a particular agent, we put the word out through various channels to see if other tenants have had similar bad experiences with that agent, then once we have enough stories about bad behaviour (e.g. at least five), we go public.
There’s a clear need for more info sessions and forums where people can learn what their basic rights as a tenant are and how best to get landlords to fulfil their responsibilities. One suggested format is that the first half of a 90-minute event could be a Q&A session with an expert who knows a lot about the Rental Tenancies Act, and the latter half of the group discussion could focus more on direct action and political advocacy. If anyone is keen to help organise one of these forums, it would be great to get together a pool of 5 to 10 volunteers who have the time and energy to put on forums in different neighbourhoods and in partnership with different community groups.
There’s a lot more to talk about, and I think as we all participate in more conversations about these issues through a range of formal and informal discussion spaces, we’ll gradually arrive at a shared understanding of strategic priorities and key policy demands.
Currently the Brisbane Renters Alliance Facebook Group serves as one of many spaces where such discussions can take place, but it could be cool to set up a slightly more secure online forum that’s also accessible to non-Facebook users if anyone has the energy and skills to do so.
Thoughts and feedback on all of the above are very welcome. Thanks to everyone who came along to the first discussion forum. Hopefully we’ll see a few more new faces at the next one.
The State Government has finally released a bit more info about the proposed new public high school for Brisbane’s inner-south side.
I’ve written previously about overcrowding issues at Brisbane State High School, and late last year I wrote an update raising concerns about the lack of genuine consultation and possible flaws in the government’s process for deciding where the new school should go.
Recent disclosures by the State Government have showed my concerns were not unfounded. While different government sources initially provided somewhat-conflicting information via different forums, here’s some of what we’ve been told…
- the new high school will have a capacity of 1100 to 1400 students
- like Brisbane State High School, the new school may have a merit-based entry component, meaning students from outside the local area will be able to attend it
- the government’s preferred site is at Boggo Road/Dutton Park near the train station
- two other sites – one next to Davies Park, and the other at the northwest end of the Kurilpa Peninsula along Montague Rd – were briefly considered but deemed less viable
- the school is proposed to have exactly the same catchment boundaries as BSHS
- the new high school will have very little green space on site for student sport and recreation, but the government is currently negotiating with UQ for shared access to UQ sports fields on the north side
As a local councillor, it seems to me that the location, the catchment boundaries and the decision to include merit-based selective entry enrolments are all suboptimal, and that the State Government needs to completely reconsider its approach.
When you look at the government's Precinct Selection Report (particularly page 7 and 8) it's obvious that revoking or reducing BSHS's selective entry enrolment was left out of scope for this decision, so it was more-or-less taken for granted that the new school would also include merit-based selective entry. This necessarily influenced how the government evaluated each potential site, particularly in terms of transport and accessibility. It's obvious that the arbitrary deadline of wanting the school to be ready by 2021 also seriously influenced the decision, despite the fact that BSHS could accommodate more local students in the short-term if it tweaked its enrolment policy.
Under Queensland law, landlords and real estate agencies are required to maintain homes to a reasonable standard, carrying out repairs in a timely manner. They’re also required to provide advance written notice before inspecting a home or bringing potential buyers around. Good landlords give tenants plenty of warning (i.e. at least six months) before ending a lease or increasing the rent, and should be open to negotiating rent decreases as market conditions change.
In practice though, many landlords and agents don’t always meet their basic legal responsibilities – some are outright bullies, threatening tenants and abusing their power.
There are a couple of official mechanisms and processes for tenants to make complaints and pressure landlords to not be jerks, but in general the system is pretty weak and skewed in landlords’ favour. A lot of tenants don’t have the skills or time to navigate these processes, particularly when many real estate agents know a lot more about how to use the system to their advantage. It’s possible to intimidate tenants, continually violate their privacy and keep them living in fear of homelessness while still technically complying with the law.
Renters who do stand up for themselves often experience retribution by landlords and agents. They might find that their lease isn’t renewed or their rent is jacked up. Without knowing it, they could be placed on a tenant blacklist. Even after you move out, a former landlord or agent can make your life extremely difficult by giving bad references to other owners who are thinking of renting to you. The potential for revenge evictions mean existing mechanisms for tenants to make complaints are not sufficient.
Now before the high priests of the property industry start threatening me with eternal damnation: Yes, I know there are bad tenants too. Not all landlords are bad people, and not all tenants are angels. But tenants don’t have the power to make their landlords homeless. And despite the ‘nightmare tenant’ stories that sometimes circulate at parties and BBQs, the overwhelming majority of the 580 000 rental households in Queensland pay their rent on time and keep their homes in good order.
Right now, we have a system that encourages conflict – tenants lack long-term stability and security, which means they have less incentive to look after their rental property. Landlords don’t trust their tenants, and so have more incentive to invade renters’ privacy and scrutinise them aggressively. This needs to change.
From what our office has seen, it is quite common for some agents to take revenge by not renewing a lease when tenants make reasonable and legitimate complaints. Renters know this, and so choose not to speak out even when their landlord is bullying them or clearly breaking the law.
This is why I’m going to start naming and shaming some landlords and real estate agents. I’m using my position as an elected representative to amplify the voices of tenants who are too scared to speak out publicly themselves, to warn other renters that they should avoid certain owners and agents.
Obviously I’ll take the time to verify complaints, and will reach out to agents privately before going public. I won’t shame a real estate agency simply on the basis of one or two complaints. I will be measured in my criticisms, refraining from hyperbole, and I will remain mindful of the fact that the low-ranking property managers who work for real estate agencies and get caught in the middle are themselves often over-worked and underpaid.
But if a certain landlord or real estate agency demonstrates a consistent pattern of disrespect and exploitation towards multiple rental households, I will use my mailing list of 9000 Brisbane residents and my substantial social media platform to hold them to account.
My intention here is not to start a war between tenants and landlords, but to ensure that agents who bully tenants and give the whole sector a bad name are called out. We should be working towards a system where renters have greater stability in their tenancies, which will in turn give them greater incentive to look after and respect the homes they live in.
Stronger renters’ rights also benefit neighbouring homeowners. When tenants have longer leases and don’t have to move house every six or twelve months, they are able to form lasting community connections, getting to know their neighbours and joining local community groups and projects.
I am calling out bad landlords because I believe a better world is possible, and that renters shouldn’t tolerate being treated as second-class citizens. I hope that by doing this, I will prompt further discussion and debate about the need for broader improvements to renters’ rights in Australia, and pressure the Queensland Government to lift its game on this issue.
For media inquiries call (07) 3403 2165 or email [email protected]
Brisbane, Australia, 2018
On Wednesday, 7 February, a woman reached out to my office in Woolloongabba for help. She’d come back to her home in Highgate Hill after being out of town for a while visiting family and attending funerals to find a final eviction notice from the police. It said they would be attending with representatives from her landlord at 11am on Thursday, 8 February to forcibly evict her and her five children.
The home is owned by the State Government’s Department of Housing, but like a lot of Queensland public housing, it’s managed and controlled by a community housing provider (a ‘CHP’) which serves as the family’s landlord.
The mum didn’t know exactly why she was being evicted. She remembered receiving a few complaints last year about minor issues like late-night noise and rubbish piling up. And she remembered that she had missed some kind of tribunal hearing a few weeks ago because she had to attend the funeral of a relative, but she didn’t really seem to understand the implications of that.
The warrant for eviction had been issued by QCAT. Apart from a couple of generic contact numbers for homelessness support services in small print at the bottom of the page, the eviction notice was not accompanied by any info about where the family was expected to go after they were forced from their home. This single mum and her five kids were being evicted into homelessness.
Spare me the Economic Fairytales: Approving More Private Developments Won’t Improve Housing Affordability
Barely a week goes by without someone – usually someone possessing a condescending sneer and multiple investment properties – telling me that building more private apartments is the best way to improve housing affordability for young people.
I call bullshit. Contrary to popular rhetoric, increasing the supply of private dwellings isn’t making housing cheaper for first home buyers or low-income renters.
Housing in Australia is treated as a source of profit. Our federal tax system trips over itself to incentivise investment in real estate. So as long as investors feel confident that values will remain high, they’ll keep snatching up new properties like lollies from a piñata, driving up prices and out-bidding first home buyers.
If supply ever rises so fast that investors start getting antsy (e.g. inner-city Brisbane) the property industry responds by slowing down construction. Developers postpone projects, leave sites sitting empty and hold off on advertising new stock to avoid saturating the market.Read more
14 November, 2017
A few months ago, the State Government announced that a new high school would be built somewhere in Brisbane’s inner-south side to help cater for population growth and take some of the pressure off Brisbane State High. The announcement was a welcome surprise to a lot of residents and even to the administrative staff of existing local schools, who had previously been told that it would be many years before a new high school was built in South Brisbane.
The government promised to consult widely with the community before any decisions were made, but so far, the list of possible sites that the government is considering hasn’t even been released publicly.
The decision of where to locate a new high school is obviously a complex and controversial one, requiring consideration of a broad range of factors.
I write to object to Priority Development Area Application #DEV2017/846 for the Queen’s Wharf casino-resort in Brisbane’s CBD.
Having looked through scores of development applications in my time as an elected city councillor, I can say with confidence that it is farcical that the State Government would consider approving this DA in its current form.
Considering that this development is taking place on government-owned land, right on the riverfront in the middle of the CBD, the public benefits of the project are relatively small compared to the value of the land and future real estate the developer is being granted, not to mention the revenue from the enlarged casino itself.
I have many concerns about this development that go beyond the scope of the criteria against which it is being assessed. The assessment criteria are too narrow and omit a number of crucial public interests. At a minimum, the government should have required the developer to provide at least 20% of new apartments on the site as affordable community housing or social housing. The fact that 2000 apartments and 1600 luxury hotel rooms are proposed to be built on government-owned inner-city land without including even one single social housing dwelling is deeply embarrassing to the Queensland Government and reflects poorly on the values of the developer. The criteria also fail to specifically include and assess the social impacts of this casino-resort development in terms of how it will shape the lives and influence interactions between residents and visitors from different demographics.
However, the development application also fails to satisfy a number of elements enunciated in the Queens Wharf Brisbane Priority Development Area Development Scheme
My most significant concerns are:
- There is insufficient public green space to cater for the new residents of the proposed apartment towers, let alone the thousands of visitors, and the net useable area of Queens Park will be reduced by a shopping mall entrance
- Hydraulic assessment and flood mitigation measures do not appear to account adequately for increased frequency and severity of flooding due to climate change
- The public realm will be specifically designed to deter and discourage the presence of rough sleepers and marginalised demographics
- There is insufficient protection of established vegetation and ecologically significant areas within and around the PDA, and no genuine attempt to promote biodiversity as part of the development
- The design of the riverfront walkways will create excessive and suboptimal conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians
- The proposed footbridge is of minimal public benefit from a transport and connectivity perspective and its location should be reconsidered to fill more significant gaps in Brisbane’s inner-city transport network
- Key design elements which have been used to promote the development, such as the ‘Skydeck Viewing Platform’ will not be freely accessible to the public on a regular basis
- The built form of the main towers is excessive, will overshadow nearby streets and public places, and undermines the character and historic significance of heritage buildings both within and adjacent to the Priority Development Area
Why Brisbane residents should maintain a healthy scepticism towards Urban Renewal Strategies and Neighbourhood Plans
Neighbourhood plans and urban renewal strategies are major catalysts for change. Usually, such documents include a lot of positive elements that the vast majority of residents and local businesses support, such as more trees and garden beds, better pedestrian connectivity, and sometimes much larger infrastructure projects. The trade-off is that new neighbourhood plans almost always permit higher density development within parts of the plan area.
I don’t have a general objection to development and densification. But it’s crucial that population growth is accompanied by timely infrastructure investment and social services. Unfortunately, Brisbane’s current neighbourhood planning framework doesn’t guarantee the delivery of public infrastructure, so you end up with higher density development, but no other major improvements (Some of the main reasons for insufficient local infrastructure are explained at www.jonathansri.com/infrastructure-shortfalls/).
What’s in Scope?
The practical scope of BCC’s neighbourhood plans is quite narrow. A neighbourhood plan can change built form rules (e.g. height limits, boundary setbacks) and zoning for different uses (residential, industrial, mixed use etc), however other elements that require funding from council, such as ‘completing a riverside footpath’ or ‘building a new pedestrian bridge’ are usually only aspirational or advisory. A new neighbourhood plan is not accompanied by strict deadlines and a specific budget allocation for local infrastructure.
Many crucial urban renewal ingredients are also out of scope of a neighbourhood plan, even though the cost to council is quite low. For example, lowering speed limits can increase pedestrian safety and encourage local commerce. However speed limits are controlled by a different section of council, and even where a neighbourhood plan might state that a particular precinct will become a ‘pedestrian-friendly area’ or an ‘activated street’ there’s no guarantee that lower speeds will actually be introduced.
In partnership with the State Government, BCC could introduce rules specifying that a certain proportion of new commercial floorspace can only be leased out to Brisbane-based small businesses and non-profit organisations. You could also include requirements that a certain percentage of new apartments are social housing or affordable community housing, to be rented out to people on lower incomes.
But all this is out of scope for the BCC’s neighbourhood planning process.
The proof is in the outcomes
The South Brisbane Riverside Neighbourhood Plan (the ‘SBRNP’) shows how the practical outcomes of an urban renewal process don’t always live up to the positive propaganda.
Introduced in 2011 (several months after the January floods), the SBRNP rezoned much of the West End floodplain for higher density development. This applied not only to old industrial sites, but to existing medium-density residential properties. The trade-off was that council would improve public parks and intersections, and install a new CityCat terminal near Victoria St in West End to service the growing population.
Seven years later, West End’s density has increased substantially, with many apartment developments approved that are even taller than the height limits set out in the new SBRNP. But there’s still no new ferry terminal or public transport infrastructure for the Montague Road side of the peninsula, and the neighbourhood has seen no significant improvement to pedestrian safety or public green space. (I’ve written more about the broken promise ferry terminal at www.jonathansri.com/victoriastferry)
Pushing for Up-front Investment
When a new neighbourhood plan is being drafted, residents must insist that infrastructure should be funded and delivered up front before any sites are rezoned for higher density development.
It’s also important to recognise that increasing height limits to encourage private development does not necessarily improve affordability for lower-income families. Affordability is improved by increasing the supply of public housing and affordable community housing, not privately owned apartments.
When council tells a community that a neighbourhood planning process will deliver new infrastructure and a better public realm, residents should point to suburbs like West End and ask where and when the money for new public transport, public parks, pedestrian upgrades and communities will be spent.
The hard truth is that if council isn’t willing to spend the money on public infrastructure, the many potential benefits of densification and ‘urban renewal’ will largely go unrealised.
Here's the basic problem:
- Too many people are buying single-use bottled water products
The obvious solution:
- Provide more free public drinking fountains that are clean and well-maintained
- Fund education campaigns to encourage people to use reusable water bottles and remind the public that water from drinking fountains is safe, clean and much more environmentally sustainable than bottled water
- Ban the sale of single-use plastic water bottles