In March, a Glebe terrace house sold for more than $2 million.

It was, according to the real estate blurb, a “blank canvas” and an “enormous opportunity.”

Nothing remarkable about that in this current market, but what was different was that this house was publicly owned and the State Government was selling it into private ownership.

So strong was the opposition to the sale, and fear of a planned protest at the auction, that the event was relocated at the last minute.

The sale of the Victorian era home at 92 Cowper Street epitomizes a key issue for inner-city Sydney, and that is the State Government’s plans to transform a public – or social – housing model at least 50 years old into a new private/public model.

Glebe is in the vanguard of this change. The State Government has planning proposals to change social housing units in Cowper Street, Wentworth Park Road and a further site at the Franklyn Street Estate in Bay Street.

In each location, social housing units will be demolished and replaced with new blocks which combine social housing with private homes.

In Cowper Street and Wentworth Park Road, 19 social housing residences will be replaced by 35 new social housing properties and 39 private homes.

The Bay Street plan is for 425 new homes, 130 of them public social housing, in a new tower 14 storeys high.

The plans are creating a storm of activity among community groups in Glebe, with groups such as Hands Off Glebe, which are mobilizing rapidly in opposition.

Where the State Government says its new model ultimately means more public housing, the opponents point out that existing tenants – many of whom have been living in their communities for decades – will be forced to move out temporarily, with little guarantee of returning.

The new social housing will also be smaller, and less suitable for families who face the prospect of being forced out of the inner city.

Balmain MP Jamie Parker puts it this way: “Residents are understandably outraged that the government wants to kick them out and destroy their homes. If they are granted the right of return then they will all be crammed together into a 13 storey apartment.

“The Government’s usual sleight of hand is to increase the number of dwellings but reduce the amount of accommodation by replacing two and three bedroom apartments with one bedrooms homes.”

The real beneficiaries of the new model, he says, will be developers and the private housing market at the expense of vulnerable people who are desperate for housing.

There are around 1000 general applicants for public housing in the Leichhardt/Marrickville Allocation Zone, and this includes Glebe. They can wait between five to ten years for a studio or one bedroom apartment, and longer than that for larger dwellings.

The State Government is selling the new model as a “renewal” of “ageing assets,” and says a private/public mix is the future.

There is certain to be more arguments and a dislocation of many lives before the new model is complete, and in the meantime watch this – empty (or for sale) – space.