Thursday, March 16, 2017

Third anniversary of the announcement to sell all public housing properties in Millers Point

(To Jack Mundey Place … photo from website of Property NSW)
This Sunday, 19 March 2017, is the 3rd anniversary of the announcement by Minister Pru Goward, currently Minister for Social Housing, of the sale of all the public housing properties in Millers Point. There's a march to celebrate those who have stayed and to commemorate a lost community. For details of the march, visit the 'Save Our Public Housing' website here. If you miss the march or it rains, come to the sausage sizzle on the Village Green or the Harry Jensen Community Centre across the road at 17 Argyle Street.

Millers Point enjoys ‘an iconic location in the heart of Sydney Harbour’. These are the words of the website of Property NSW. Here, you will find the NSW Government flogging the 'exclusive High Street ... an exceptional opportunity'. So far in 2017, McGrath Real Estate, on behalf of the NSW Government, has listed 6 High Street blocks, each comprising 4 units that provide a selection of 2 and 3 bedrooms, and four other properties elsewhere in Millers Point. Included is the former infamous 'Hit or Miss Hotel' which was licensed from 1852 until 1923 and remodelled into five apartments in the 1930s, and two terraces to be sold in one line. Ray White also is selling a pair of adjoining terraces currently configured as seven one-bedroom apartments. Price tags range from a mere $2 million to $5.5 million.

Millers Point is fast becoming an enclave of the rich. Yet, not so many years ago, Housing NSW produced a wonderful publication on the Millers Point community. It is called 'Millers Point Oral History Project: Summary Report', 2007 and was written by Frank Heimans for Housing NSW. It reads (page 6, 7, 19):
Millers Point … has a very integrated community who love living there and have a sense of belonging and allegiance to the place. … The residents have a rich reservoir of memories of living at the Point, going, in some cases, as far back as six generations. They were born, worked, lived and died in the houses at Millers Point. They also have a strong sense of history and heritage. It’s a community within a community where everyone knew each other through work and place of living.
Just a few years later, the NSW Government decided to evict them all ...

At 21 March 2017, 143 properties have been sold for $374.06M, with a median sale price of $2.41M and sales in the range $1.54M and $12.30M. This represents 130 sales, with the top price being for a block of 12 one-bedroom apartments covering 7 properties sold in one line. Based upon sales to date, an estimate of funds to be received from these sales is $681.23M. This is far in excess of the Government's target of $500 million.

But at what cost? At the beginning of the process 579 tenant and household members (in 399 tenancies) were to be relocated. At 15 March 2017, 548 tenant and household members (in 378 tenancies) have either vacated or are committed to moving, with a further 31 (in 21 tenancies) still uncommitted to moving. Three 'Notices of intention to issue a Notice of Termination' have been served on remaining tenants. You will find information about this process here. 'Brutal' is how residents described the actions of Housing NSW in Millers Point. Professor Alan Morris of University of Technology Sydney documented the experiences of residents in a report called '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'. Shelter NSW and Tenants' Union of NSW held a forum in October 2016 to discuss Professor Morris's findings.

By the second half of 2016 the NSW Government was pitting residents who remained against Sydney's homeless population. It implied that the Millers Point residents were selfish and prejudicing homeless people getting housing. In a media release, then Minister Brad Hazzard said: ‘I thank the Millers Point residents who have moved for understanding the need to provide more social housing for the 60,000 vulnerable people on the waiting list.’ No mention of the trauma endured by residents of Millers Point being forced out. Indeed, the then Social Housing Minister is quoted as saying: '... sometimes I have to ask people to come on that journey with us.' It poses the question, if portfolios such as health and education are not funded by cannibalising themselves, then why must social housing be funded this way?

Across 2015 and 2017 the Tenants' Union of NSW made submissions to Elder Abuse Inquiries of both the NSW Legislative Council and the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) here and here. We argued that a government policy, in itself, may constitute a form of elder abuse. We submitted that the NSW Government’s decision to relocate all the social housing tenants in the suburb of Millers Point is an example of systemic elder abuse. See, for instance, the story of Flo Seckold, who moved out in February of this year.

A win for the residents over the last year was the Sirius Building becoming subject to a green ban. This followed a loss for residents when the NSW Government refused to accept the unanimous recommendation of the Heritage Council of NSW for it being given heritage status. The Land and Environment Court will consider this matter on 6 April 2017. At this hearing, residents will argue that such a rejection by the Minister for Planning did not comply with the relevant law. You can read more about this process in news reports here and here. Note the Sirius Building was not included in the original social impact assessment for Millers Point and The Rocks.

What does this all mean? A recent blog of Martin North of Digital Finance Analytic may hold part of the answer. His blog is called 'Property Investment and the Financialization of Housing'. The financialization of housing has its origins in the rise of neo-liberalism. C.W. Chun ('Exploring neoliberal language, discourses and identities' in S. Preece, ed. The Routledge Handbook of Language and Identity, London: Routledge, 2016, p. 560) argues that in a neo-liberal world 'nothing will remain untouched by the drive to monetise every imaginable and imagined private and public domain constituting and constitutive of our everyday lives'.

Martin North refers to a report of the Special Rapporteur to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. At Paragraph 6, it reads:
In many countries in the global South ... the impact of financialization is experienced differently, but with a common theme — the subversion of housing and land as social goods in favour of their value as commodities for the accumulation of wealth, resulting in widespread evictions and displacement.
Sounds like Millers Point, Sydney, Australia ... even though we're a so-called first world country. (For more commentary on the report of the Special Rapporteur, visit here.)

For more on Millers Point over the past three years, visit the Tenants' Union of NSW previous blogs here and here. We have said on many occasions: 'Come on NSW Government, allow the remaining older residents a real choice'. This may be ageing-in-place in their current homes and, an alternative that is supported by the residents, retain some of the units within the Sirius Building and some of the workers cottages for a semblance of a social mix. It's not too late! A win-win situation! You'll make your money and older residents still there can stay.

[Sales data updated on 21 March 2017]

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