Thursday, November 19, 2015

NSW Government: you can do better than this!

 The apartments in Millers Point where long term public housing residents will be allowed to stay, as their historic terrace homes are sold for millions.

Ninety public housing tenants remaining in Millers Point received letters on Monday, 16 November 2015, with an offer to stay in the historic suburb by swapping their current homes for other non-heritage apartments: 24 of which are one bedroom properties, one is a two bedroom property and three are three bedroom properties. But there is a catch. Altogether only 28 apartments are on offer. Not everyone can stay. 'It's Sophie's choice,' said Chris Hinkley of the Millers Point community working party, and a resident for 44 years. The letter states that residents not relocated to one of the 28 properties will be moved out of Millers Point. Minister for Social Housing Brad Hazzard said it was a 'massive shift for the government', which had previously declared all tenants would be evicted and their public housing homes sold. Read more here.

However, the letter to residents states that the Government is proposing to 'defer', rather than 'withdraw', the sale of these properties. This poses the question as to the Government's future intentions. Are these properties to become part of a land bank with a view to their future sale?  What security of tenure does this provide to those residents who move in?

On 2 September 2015 the General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2. of the NSW Legislative Council called for submissions to its 'Inquiry into elder abuse in New South Wales'. Submissions closed on Sunday, 15 November 2015. The Tenants' Union lodged a submission.  It argued that, although elder abuse is generally between two individuals of unequal power where there is an expectation of trust, elder abuse also may be a systemic problem, with a government through its policies also being the instigator of such abuse. And it asserted that this is what is happening at Millers Point. It asked that the final report of the Standing Committee include a recommendation that the NSW Government allow remaining older residents of Millers Point to age-in-place in their current housing. This submission was submitted on 13 November 2015 and subsequently published by the Standing Committee. You can read it here.

NSW Government: you can do better than offer just 28 apartments to the remaining 90 tenants! At Millers Point you coveted your neighbours house (read more here). And you made a motzer (read more here)! By the Minister's own admission, the cottages in Millers Point have been a 'goldmine' for the government, such as 18-20 Munn Street which recently sold for $5.5 million.

NSW Government: give the remaining older residents a proper choice, not 'Sophie's choice' ... and this includes aging-in-place in their current housing. Then perhaps sell some of their houses if this remains your plan. But why not retain some of the units within the Sirius Building and workers cottages to maintain a semblance of a social mix ... so that Millers Point does not become an enclave for the wealthy?

Also, why not construct a new apartment building on vacant land at Millers Point, as originally proposed. In March 2014 The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the battle for Millers Point's long-term public housing residents to stay was lost when former finance minister Greg Pearce was sacked. In 2013 the Land and Housing Corporation had received heritage office approval to construct a building at Millers Point to accommodate up to 140 long-term residents. The housing department was preparing to lodge a subdivision application for the building. But two days after Mr Pearce lost his ministry in August 2013, the housing corporation was transferred from Finance into the control of Community Services Minister Pru Goward and she favoured removing all public housing from Millers Point. Read more hereIndeed its own consultant, Cred Community Planning, recommended that some of the funds from the sale of homes in and around Millers Point be used to build new social housing properties nearby, especially for elderly residents, adding that they may experience 'ongoing negative impacts of stress and poor health outcomes'. Read more hereThe site of this proposed building remains vacant.
This needs to happen now, because the New South Wales Government appears to be clearing the decks in Millers Point and removing the final barriers for obtaining vacant possession of all the remaining properties. On top of the announcement by Minister for Social Housing Brad Hazzard, offering some residents the right to stay in two rows of apartments, two other events have just occurred, perhaps not coincidental. Firstly, Clause 16 (1) of the Residential Tenancies Regulation 2010 was amended on 30 October 2015 to exclude heritage properties owned by New South Wales Land and Housing Corporation and the Aboriginal Housing Office from heritage properties exempted from the operation of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. Read more here. Secondly, nine of the remaining tenancies in Millers Point are managed by a real estate agent. And a number, if not all of these, were issued with 90-day 'no-grounds' notices of termination at the beginning of last week on the instructions of the New South Wales Land and Housing Corporation. 

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