Leading an emotion-fuelled campaign against the monoliths of the NSW Government was never a responsibility Louisa Blair thought she would shoulder.

The 30-year resident, pictured above, of the Explorer Street public housing estate describes herself as more bashful than boisterous; not the type to ordinarily welcome newcomers into her living room with tea and chocolate biscuits.

“I’m quite shy in a lot of ways [but] if I see people being mistreated it really provokes something in me,” Blair says. “It makes me so angry and disgusted.”

In November last year Blair first learned that her community was to relocate in the latter half of 2022.

A lot of the neighbours were having panic attacks, anxiety attacks.

The Land and Housing Corporation’s proposal would spell removal for the empty-nesting Blair, a founding member of the Eveleigh housing estate, who discovered Explorer Street in 1991 as a single parent completing her Bachelors’ Degree at the University of New South Wales. She says inner-city living in the early ‘90s was far from the gentrified splendour marketed to the tertiary-educated professionals of today.

The proposal has caused anxiety for residents of the quiet street.

“A lot of the neighbours were having panic attacks, anxiety attacks and things like that, worried about things that would happen to them,” Blair says.

The proposed renewal in Eveleigh, just south of Macdonaldtown Station, comes as part of the Berejiklian Government’s plans to deliver new social and private homes across the City of Sydney Local Government Area, with residents of Glebe’s Franklyn Street and Waterloo’s public housing estate in the same boat.

It is the latest chapter in the State’s fire sale of inner-city social housing in the past decade.

In 2014, the Liberal Government announced a sell-off of public housing in the historic Sirius building in the Rocks, where apartments are now being marketed for tens of millions of dollars, and the Millers Point area to force long-time residents away from their communities and homes while pocketing a cool $500 million in the process.

It’s been estimated that in the past year alone the NSW Government has sold $627 million of taxpayer-funded land to private ownership, with the State’s Communities Plus program – a scheme whereby 70 per cent of inner-city social housing will be privatised for luxury high-density dwellings – is central to the impending destruction of Explorer Street.

But the tenants of Explorer Street are refusing to give in.

Deb Lucero has been neighbours with Blair for the past 19 years of her life. From her three-bedroom townhouse, she has raised two children, served in a nearby Waterloo childcare centre and established deep-seated connections throughout the Eveleigh community.

“Sitting quiet may be the easiest thing to do, but what we see is the injustice.”

Now with the threat of relocation towering above her home, Lucero credits her longtime neighbour with pioneering the new wave of activism in Explorer Street.

“A lot of people don’t know what to do or how to make their voice heard,” Lucero says.

“Hav[ing] somebody like Louisa that’s being very proactive in getting information out there [and] reassuring neighbours and residents of Explorer Street that there is a way our voice can be heard … is why a lot of us are willing to speak up about it.

“Sitting quiet may be the easiest thing to do, but what we see is the injustice.”

Lucero accused the Land and Housing Corporation of insensitivity over the past six months, mistreatment Blair labelled “shocking”.

“We first got that lovely little leaflet dropped in the letterbox that basically stated that we were going to be moved on … and around June 2022 we would all be out of our properties,” Lucero says. “We had no idea at all, and the fact that it was simply a letterbox drop was not okay.

“It’s not that we’re saying it’s not fair that they’re going to relocate us … it’s the way it’s being done: no information from the Department of Housing at all, we have not been told a thing, so that leaves everything up in the air as to where we’ll be relocated to as well.”

Explorer Street resident Deb Lucero. Photo: Daniel Lo Surdo

Blair’s background spanning administration, health, education and the business management sector has prepared her for this moment.

“When we found out about this I went door knocking to everyone, I printed things out very quickly at work,” Blair says. “Those who couldn’t speak English, they’re saying ‘thank you so much, you’re going to speak for us’.”

“We don’t think we’re all different, it makes life so much more interesting and colourful.”

Explorer Street has overcome language and cultural barriers for almost three decades, forming the sort of tight-knit community that is increasingly becoming lost to the high-rise influx of inner-city Sydney.

“We’ve just been busy bringing up our children and working over the years, we’re very friendly, we’re always joking, but if someone needs help or assistance everyone just gets in to help out, the sense of community is lovely,” Blair says.

“We don’t think we’re all different, it makes life so much more interesting and colourful.”

Jack, a resident of Explorer Street, in front of his three-bedroom home. Photo: Daniel Lo Surdo

Beyond the 42 households of Explorer Street there is a growing network of supporters joining the battle against the Land and Housing Corporation.

“Jenny Leong has been fantastic, she has been really supportive of this issue and really communicating with residents in the local area, and is genuine about it,” Blair says.

“[When] the issue came up a few years ago, she came up knocking on everyone’s door saying ‘if I get elected then I will make sure this doesn’t happen, it’s about communities and neighbourhoods, not about profiting developers’.”

Leong has been the NSW Legislative Assembly Member for Newtown since 2015. From Macquarie Street, the Greens MP has assumed statewide party responsibilities for housing and homelessness, human rights and multiculturalism.

“We will be doing all we can to ensure that this demolition never goes ahead.”

Since November, Leong has been liaising with Blair and the Explorer Street community to champion an assertive opposition to the renewal.

“There is strong community support behind the residents – and I have made it clear that demolishing public housing, building private units on public land and tearing down family homes will never be supported by the Greens,” Leong says.

“We will be doing all we can to ensure that this demolition never goes ahead.”

Similarly to Leong, Friends of Erskineville President Andrew Chuter has seen firsthand the effects of the Land and Housing Corporation’s inner-city public housing offensive and has mobilised his local resident organisation in concert with the tenants of the neighbouring Eveleigh estate.

“It’s a sinking feeling with what’s gradually happening to them,” Chuter says. “We’re concerned for all Department of Housing tenants … we’re willing to challenge the Government on this.”

With the renewal still in its early planning phase, the Land and Housing Corporation maintains residents will be notified at least six months before relocation will be required, with a specialist relocations team engaging with each tenant to identify a suitable property for their respective needs.

When discussing the negative stereotyping attached to inner-city public housing tenants, Blair grows frustrated.

“I have a tertiary education, I’ve worked and studied my whole life, I’ve worked various jobs so that if I’m not getting income from one source I’ve always got a backup,” Blair says.

“Everyone I know here has just been working really hard and bringing their children up their whole lives.”

She pauses, before speaking the idiom of those mistreated or marginalised in Australia.

“The rich get richer, and the poor get the picture.”