Friday, September 9, 2016

The Millers Point Millions - where are they now?

Yesterday we noted Shelter NSW's publication of Professor Alan Morris's report "A contemporary forced urban removal: The displacement of public housing residents from Millers Point, Dawes Point and the Sirius Building by the New South Wales Government".

Image credit: Lachlan Bennett
The report is timely since Minister for Social Housing Brad Hazzard, and several of his counterparts in related portfolios, have recently been quizzed in the Budget Estimates hearings, including questions on issues surrounding Millers Point. This gives us an up-to-the-minute insight into the Government's views on the sell-off, and why they have persevered despite the community's anguish that has now been documented by Professor Morris.

Here's the transcript of an exchange between Minister Hazzard and the Hon. Paul Green, MLC:
The Hon. PAUL GREEN: Can you update the Committee with regard to the current public housing situation at Millers Point and how the Government has responded to the needs of those vulnerable housing tenants, ensuring they are adequately housed and not displaced from ageing in place? 
Mr BRAD HAZZARD: It is a challenge. It is a difficult issue. The Government took a view which was that those particular properties were worth so much—as you are aware, when I became Minister I had a chat to the Premier and others about this issue. Initially the view was that each one of those properties could sell for between $1.5 million or $2 million, and possibly $5 million or $6 million. The $2 million sale of one very old property—usually more than 100 years old, with challenging maintenance issues, and often with an elderly individual living in it—could lead to the rehousing of six families or individuals from the waiting list of 60,000.
Just on this point, the residents' in Professor Morris's report speak at some length about the maintenance issues in their homes. For example, one resident says:
I think there was a long-term plan … As I say there's an upstairs and downstairs in High Street and about every six months they had to re-tar the roofs up there you know … because the heat would make it bubble up and crack and once it cracked it was you know leaking with the water with the rain coming in. So they had to resurface it … and that’s what the Maritime [Services Board] used to do. When Housing took over there was none of that and as I say the water just went right through the places. So there was a long-term plan [of neglect] I'd say, yeah.
 And another says:
Yeah, it was obvious they were never going to fix any of the properties. Some of the properties were in such a terrible state of repairs, [but] it wouldn’t matter how many times we called them, they wouldn’t come and attend to anything. I don’t know if it was purposely intended to demoralise us. I think it was their plan for a very long time that they were going to sell the buildings, so there wasn’t any point in fixing them up. I mean it sort of became more apparent especially when the news broke that we were all getting moved.
But back to the Minister's response:
As much as that was a difficult decision for the Government, the fact was that the sale could raise half a billion dollars and build about 1,500 new homes. That was the policy decision that was taken to try to address the very long public housing waiting list ... I do not know whether you have seen the really good Auditor-General's report from three or four years ago. I was fascinated to read it because he talked about the fact that the former Government had been forced—as governments sometimes are—to make the decision to reduce the amount of public housing because it had to pay maintenance on the properties. In a sense, it was eating public housing.
It's a good analogy - the idea that public housing was eating itself in order maintain its bloated remnants is a compelling picture of where the portfolio was headed under the previous administration. But we can apply a similar analogy to the current Government's policy. Instead of eating itself, the public housing portfolio is chewing itself up, before taking aim and spitting itself out into somebody else's backyard.

We've been trying to keep track of the number and location of new properties being built with the Millers Point Millions. In recent correspondence, FACS Housing informed us that:
So far, nearly 650 properties have either commenced construction or have been completed utilising the proceeds of the Millers Point sales program.
... which rather sounds like they've just rolled the Millers Point Millions into a couple of their existing projects. Still, as long as it's all going towards new social housing, and keeping the construction machines well oiled, we should have little to complain about. It's all about the greater good, after all.

But what can you buy with the proceeds of an inner-city suburb?

A quick look at where these new properties are being built reveals this "greater good" means no new social housing within cooee of the community that's being cannibalised.
Download the PDF for a better look.
Of the nearly 650 new properties, 246 are within Sydney's middle-ring, 336 are in the outer-ring, and 58 are in Wollongong. Evidently, social and economic diversity is no longer an inner-city aspiration, despite the continuing demand for social and affordable housing in Sydney's inner-ring.

And we're still none-the-wiser about which specific projects are being paid for with the Millers Point Millions, and in what specific amounts. How many bedsits? How many 2 or 3 bedroom flats? How many family homes?

To date, the sale of 94 public housing properties in Millers Point has netted the Government around $264million. That's about a third of the properties that have been earmarked for sale, and it's already more than half of what the Government has anticipated it will gain.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for keeping us posted. Thank you too to the people in a position to keep on picking the the government to be accountable and keep us posted.


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