From a wasteland to million-dollar views: Sydney apartment building with a message for the future


Galina Doroshina’s homemade curtains frame a million-dollar view of Sydney Harbour from Greenway, NSW’s first social housing high-rise block that is celebrating its 70th birthday.

“When I first came and saw this great ugly building, I thought, ‘Is it a prison?’” said 94-year-old Doroshina. “As it turned out, it is so comfortable. The location’s perfect. There is a shop, there is a medical centre, doctors come to our building. [And the view] is like a photo in a frame.”

Greenway in Milsons Point is bucking trends. Its 350 residents – two-thirds over 60 and 19 older than 90 – are living longer on average than other Australians.

Galina Doroshina, 94, thought Greenway was a prison, now she loves it and her million-dollar view.

Galina Doroshina, 94, thought Greenway was a prison, now she loves it and her million-dollar view.Credit: Rhett Wyman

The social housing estate is also located in a far more affluent and central area than most public and community housing.

Housing Minister Rose Jackson said Sydney needed more opportunities for people to live in public housing “everywhere in our city”.

“It doesn’t matter if it is the wealthiest community in Sydney; there should be opportunities for public housing. I look forward to another 70 years,” she said, “and 70 more Greenways.”

They wouldn’t necessarily look like Greenway because design and planning had changed since 1954. But Greenway’s vibrant community proved public housing belonged in the cities and the suburbs, she said.

An analysis of public housing using ABS census data from 2006 to 2021 by Luke Metcalfe, a data scientist and founder of Microburbs.com.au, indicates Jackson has a huge job.

The number of private dwellings rose by 300,000 to 1.85 million in Greater Sydney in that period, but the number of people who said in the census that they rented from a government or community housing provider fell by 10,000 to 70,144.

“There’s a strong correlation between high median income and a decrease in public housing,” Metcalfe said. “In affluent areas, where the gap between the underclass and their residents is the greatest, they fight harder to keep them out of their area,” he wrote in a blog post last weekend.

Public housing was increasingly concentrated in lower median income areas such as Blacktown, where it represented 5.9 per cent of all housing, Fairfield (7.4 per cent), Liverpool (6.1 per cent), Canterbury Bankstown (7.2 per cent) and Campbelltown (8.1 per cent), which has had the most public housing since 2006.

It fell most in affluent areas. Lane Cove’s public housing dropped 64 per cent from representing 4.6 per cent (678 dwellings in 2006) to 1.5 per cent (244 in 2021.) Ku-ring-gai, Mosman and Woollahra, have the least public housing in Sydney, with fewer than 100 dwellings in each.

The Greenway building in Milsons Point.

The Greenway building in Milsons Point.Credit: Sam Rutherford

From 2006 to 2021 in the City of Sydney, where the former Coalition government sold homes at Millers Point as a way to fund hundreds more in Sydney’s less expensive areas, public housing fell 19 per cent to 6849 homes compared with a 40 per cent rise in all dwellings.

“No more shunting people off to the side,” Jackson promised.

If public housing stock had kept pace with population growth, Professor Hal Pawson of the City Futures Research Centre at UNSW said Australia would have built 567,943 public and community housing dwellings by 2022 compared with the stock of 434,732.

Greenway was built at the peak of the post-war housing boom, and was celebrated as the largest housing estate of its kind in the southern hemisphere, North Sydney Mayor Zoe Baker said. Its electric stoves and fridges used so much electricity that an on-site substation had to be built.

Newspaper reports in 1954 noted that the housing estate, built on a tract of “wasteland” created where old homes had been razed to make way for construction of the Harbour Bridge, was directly opposite “fashionable” Vaucluse and Point Piper.

NSW Housing Minister Rose Jackson says Sydney needs another 70 Greenways, spread across suburbs including our wealthiest.

NSW Housing Minister Rose Jackson says Sydney needs another 70 Greenways, spread across suburbs including our wealthiest. Credit: Rhett Wyman

Dr Michael Zanardo, an architect and urban designer who specialises in affordable and public housing, said Sydney “absolutely needs to build more public housing, soon and at volume”.

“When it was completed, Greenway was seen as a real achievement and a sign of progress. Would we build Greenway again quite like this today? Probably not, but there are some excellent lessons there for future projects,” he said .

A Greenway resident relaxes in her lounge room in November 1957.

A Greenway resident relaxes in her lounge room in November 1957. Credit: Credit: State Archives Collection

Bryce Gunn, 82, is president of the Greenway Tenants Group, which has been working with property manager St George Community Housing to improve residents’ access to services.

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Greenway is down a steep hill from the train station. Access had been so poor that, in the past, some residents called an ambulance to get a ride to Royal North Shore Hospital to get a hot meal from its cafe, go shopping and see the doctor.

As well as starting a wellness centre with visiting doctors and health professionals four days a week, Gunn said the group raised $52,000 by selling 20,170 sausage sandwiches to fund a commuter bus and to install a lift to street level.

St George Community Housing’s chief executive Scott Langford said in the 1970s public housing represented 17 per cent of new homes. Now workers and others such as Greenway’s residents were locked out.

“We risk an invisible boundary wall of property prices keeping out the people that make Sydney a great place to live. The people who make the city work and the people who make it interesting.”



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