Pacific Rim Real Estate Society (PRRES)
Sydney, 23-27 January, 2000
NEW LIVING IN THE TOWN OF KWINANA – SUBURBAN RENEWAL IN PUBLIC HOUSING
Department of Property Studies,
Curtin University of Technology,
Phone: 61-8-9266-4034, Facsimile: 61-9-9293-4085,
Keywords: public housing, renewal, Kwinana, pollution
Post-War Public Housing in Western Australia was concentrated as a matter of policy in subdivisions created for the purpose, until the early 1990‟s when there was a paradigmatic shift. The decision was made to carry out major renewal projects in areas of high public housing density, and sell a significant proportion of the revitalised properties to private owner occupiers – the so-called “New Living Initiatives”. The public housing estate in the Town of Kwinana was one of the first two projects.
The aims of the Kwinana New Living Project included improving the quality of the housing, changing the balance of public and private clientele, and creating a greater sense of "community spirit".
This paper looks at the New Living Initiatives in the Town of Kwinana in Western Australia as a case study in suburban renewal, identifying the nature of the problem and the costs and benefits that need to be understood and quantified in order to assess the effectiveness of the New Living Initiatives.
Historically, the intention of public housing in Western Australia was to assist people of 'good character' (the 'deserving poor') with the provision of houses at rents they could afford (Sharp 1993). "The 1950s-1970s were the decades of the State Housing Commission's housing estate developments. They were shaped by three circumstances: the social demands of low to moderate income earners for housing; the economic demand of industries for a stable and accessible workforce; and the level of funding available to the Commission to erect such housing” (Sharp 1993, p.73). Most housing was supplied for people in employment, but whose wages were too low to enable them to purchase or rent housing privately. The Town of Kwinana was established following the proclamation of the Oil Refinery Industry (Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited) Act on the 27th March 1952. Under the terms of this Act, the State Government resumed about 7,560 acres of land, for the development of a new Kwinana townsite, to enable the creation of housing for the workforce to construct and operate a new oil refinery (Russell 1979). The Act specified the construction by the State Housing Commission of 333 houses in each of the next three years. The oil refinery was the first development in a projected industrial area along the coastal strip north of Rockingham. Provision of the housing for workers was part of the agreement between the Western Australian Government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP) which built the refinery. The original plan envisaged a town of 25,000 residents. As at March 1994 it was 20,000.The Town of Kwinana was established on largely rural or undeveloped land, approximately 20 kilometres south of the City of Fremantle, and 30 kilometres from the City of Perth. The original plan contained four suburbs within Kwinana known as Medina, Calista, Orelia and Parmelia. The total of these suburbs measures approximately 3 km from East to West and 3 km from North to South. There is a government primary school located in each of the four suburbs, and a high school located in Orelia. These four suburbs form the subject of the revitalisation.
The Town of Kwinana was designed by Western Australian planner Margaret Feilman, whose plan was to create a new town, where the aim was "… as a three dimensional exercise to
achieve the best use of the land as part of a total environment - to be good for the people who used it, to give safety and convenience and the maximum amenity. This meant responding to
the land as I found it, using contours as a basis for design as well as the best of the natural features, including trees, view etc. which we now take for granted.”
The plan was designed to “…separate the residential neighbourhoods from the industrial areas with the major western ridge and landscape buffer, to integrate an essentially Australian town in an attractive landscape …” and to design roads in a definite hierarchy so that it was easy to walk to shops from anywhere, with bus routes permitting easy access, and quiet loop roads located off central spines. (Feilman 1993) The resulting town had an attractive appearance, with extensive facilities including a large recreation centre, olympic sized swimming pool, and public open space in excess of the norm - with some 16% of land set aside for parks and recreation.
When the original Kwinana townsite was established, it was heralded as a triumph for the State, both in concept and design. Why was it subsequently judged a failure in need of change – what went wrong?
From the earliest stages, the demand for houses did not match the supply. One of the problems for the planners in attempting to predict the growth rate of the new suburbs was their nature as residential areas almost solely utilised by employees in the industrial area. A survey of the proposed Development Plan for the Kwinana-Naval Base industrial area from 1965-70 suggested that within that period, housing demand could vary from approximately 1500 to about 2000 units of accommodation. (MacKenzie 1966) In 1965 this apparently ineffectual prediction, with its high degree of variance was explained as being “because of the problems caused by fluctuations in the world economic and political situations as well as those which occur on the Australian scene, which could lead to an increase or reduction in the tempo of development” but also because of the “…unknown degree of supporting tertiary employment” that would be required to service the industrial community(MacKenzie 1966)p.9. This inability to accurately predict the number of employees who would be required at any one time in the industrial area has been a pivotal problem for the suburb of Kwinana, and was at its worst in the early days when there was no other employment in the area and transport to and from the area was both lengthy and inconvenient. For example, Kwinana's population increased dramatically from 5,777 in 1966 to 12,224 in 1971 with the development of the coastal industrial strip and the influx of 3,586 UK migrants to the region during this period (1990) p.7. The Government of the day was encouraging immigration to boost the fledgling industrial work force, but the number of jobs available did not live up to expectations in the long run. Workers were required in spurts of activity to construct industrial plant, but the running of the plant required far fewer employees, and the construction workers found themselves unemployed.
The construction of large numbers of State Housing Commission houses pre-supposed two conditions would prevail. Firstly, that the industrial strip would continue to support a large and growing workforce, and secondly that they would live in State Housing Commission accommodation in the area. In the event neither proved to be the case.
The number of persons employed at the industrial strip fluctuated markedly, but only ever approached the numbers anticipated when construction of the facilities was taking place (1949-98).
The State Housing Commission made use of the accommodation which was surplus to needs for workers in the industrial area for housing applicants in receipt of welfare payments of one sort or another. This was not a problem initially, and in fact, some of the first complaints to the State Housing Commission regarding their management of placements in the area related to the relocating of tenants out of the area, who did not want to go! The State Housing
Commission policy, as confirmed in November 1961, was that no Social Service cases should be allocated houses at Medina, and that preference was to be given to applicants who were employed or who were to be employed at Medina. (1952)
However, it appeared that this policy was overlooked, at least in part, as in June 1962, the Medina Districts Residents Association were seeking assurances from the State Housing Commission regarding the future of social security tenants then living in Medina.The Residents were objecting to State Housing Commission intentions to move out Social Security tenants when the need arose for a new influx of industrial employees. (1953-63)
Pensioner and Social Service Cases were allowed as tenants at Medina because there was a surplus of houses, and on the understanding that these tenancies would only continue until such time as the houses were required for new and expanding industries in that area (1953-63) In the event, this never happened, and the Town of Kwinana became increasingly populated with social security recipients. Employees working in the Kwinana industrial strip chose to live not in the Kwinana township but in nearby Rockingham, or inland at Byford. Living in either of these centres required a car to get to work, but this was increasingly the norm for those in employment. The spiral therefore continued – empty State Housing Commission
accommodation, move in more welfare recipients, further social disruption and stigma.
st December 1976, held with At a special meeting of the Town of Kwinana Council on 21
representatives from RDC Homes, a major builder, regarding the development of Leda, a new neighbouring suburb, representatives from RDC stated that they were very interested in being involved as the overall development controller of the project, but noted that: “The Kwinana area had a lot going for it but there were marketing problems which related to the old “Medina” stigma.”
The State Housing Commission has continued to be the sole developer in the Town. Blocks are sold to the private market, but all development before the New Living Initiatives was done by the State Housing Commission. This has been a contributing factor in the stigma - “you
never know if you will have a State Housing Commission tenant next door or not”. (Edwards
A “Homeswest Management Team” characterised the suburb in the following terms in 1993:
"There is an endless cycle of applicants being allocated apartments, applying for transfers to houses; getting a transfer to an old and clapped out house in Medina, then immediately applying for a further transfer to a more acceptable suburb such as Orelia or Parmelia or Leda. Of the 600 odd applicants at Kwinana, almost 450 have applied for the Rockingham area. Of the remainder about a third are from singles (most of them young, unemployed and socially unstable), with the remainder a mixture of seniors waiting for "newer" construction units and local families. There is also a very high proportion of Aboriginal tenancies in the town. Essentially we have made the town what it is.”
The team summarised the problems as:
- Old stock - generally of 1950's construction in asbestos and timber
- Mostly 2 bedroomed single detached houses
- High turnover in tenants, with low demand
- Resultant high re-let costs
- Lack of neighbourhood stability with high turnover
- 86% of tenancies on statutory incomes
- Highest unemployment rate in Australia
- Currently 20 properties vacant with the lowest re-let costs estimated in excess of $9000
(Homeswest Management Team 1993)
In a letter from LH Chipperton (Freeman and former Councillor) on 5 November 1990, to the Mayor of the Town of Kwinana, about the state of Medina, he makes the comment that “Despite assurances to the contrary I and the majority of Medina Ratepayers feel we have become the “Homeswest dumping ground” for their “problem” families that no one else wants or will accept!!” Comments made at public meetings around the same time reflect a similar sense of frustration, with ratepayers claiming that they have been told that their homes are “unsellable” (1961-). There were approximately 22% of houses in Kwinana owned by the State Housing Commission at this time.
The other major issue for the Town of Kwinana relates to its proximity to the industrial strip, and issues of pollution.
The history of the industrial suburb is peppered with references both in the local press and the Town of Kwinana Council records to various incidents of pollution, chiefly in the form of water pollution in nearby Cockburn Sound and air pollution. There have been a number of detailed studies done and reports issued on the problems relating to the pollution, particularly in the last 10 years. However, in spite of tests showing results within accepted World Health Organisation levels, the stigma may well be attached to the reporting and considering of the problems alone.
The original design and positioning of the town was done with a view to the creation of a buffer zone which was intended to prevent the pollution from the industrial area, both visual and gaseous, from reaching the residential area. However, it is safe to say the results were not always perfect!
“Strong Naphtha-like odours permeated through the district one day during this period.
The odour emanated from a spillage of natural gas odouriser by Western Mining Corp.
The spillage occurred from a 44 gallon drum deposited on the Rockingham rubbish
disposal site and there were no physical defects noted; however, the odour was
overpowering in some sections of the district.”(Kwinana 1978)
“Numerous complaints received of strong sulphurous odours from industries that were
permeating through houses in the townsite.”(Kwinana )
“…pollution of the air and subsequent crop damage to a Naval Base market gardener‟s property still continues…” (Kwinana )
The upshot of all the testing and reporting appears to be that there are no significant health risks associated with the pollution emanating from the Kwinana Industrial Strip, but there are unpleasant odours and side effects from time to time, and, as with most contamination, the level to which this creates a stigma and thereby an effect on the values in the area, is, at least in part, a function of the amount of publicity it receives (Bond 1999).
New Living Initiatives
In November 1993, the State Housing Commission proposed to the Town of Kwinana a major redevelopment initiative which became known as the New Living Initiatives. It was an adaptation of an idea trialled in Elizabeth, South Australia(Joyce 1993).
Over the years, a variety of attempts have been made by the State Housing Commission and the Town of Kwinana to improve the social situation in Kwinana. However, with the New
Living Initiatives a more unified and larger scale program has been adopted, with the appointment of a private sector project manager, Satterley-McCusker to carry out the