Thursday, February 4, 2016

Endgame for Millers Point?

For the last couple of years the residents of Millers Point, Sydney have faced an uncertain future. Recent developments point to an emerging clarity, although not for the better.

On 19 November 2015 we said:
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.
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?

At 3 February 2016, 314 of the 398 tenancies within properties marked for sale by the NSW Government have been vacated. Of the remaining 84, 70 are public housing tenants who deal directly with Housing NSW, 5 are community housing tenants and 9 are tenants whose properties are managed by a real estate agent.

At the time that applications closed for the 28 properties referred to above, 21 applications had been received. In the week ending 29 January 2016 letters of offer were sent to 19 of these applicants. If the offers are accepted and with two of the properties currently occupied, then 22 of the properties will be taken up. No decision has been made regarding the remaining 6 properties. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to visit a display unit established in one the properties to choose their furnishings.

Many of the older people in Millers Point did not make an application for one of these properties, despite their having been withdrawn from immediate sale, because of their particular needs and the ongoing detrimental effect on their health posed by a forced relocation. The reasons for this are simple: these properties are unsuitable to older folk. Most are small, one bedroom apartments. Many have internal stairs. For those at the corner of Kent and Argyle Street, to put out the washing is a major hassle. It would requires leaving their unit and walking to a common area down a sloped footpath in the street.

On 1 February 2016 residents who had not applied for one of the properties received a letter from Family and Community Services stating it will commence making 'formal offers of alternative accommodation outside Millers Point area as defined in the Department of Family and Community Services relocation policy' and 'the practice of making informal offers of properties will now end'. This implies that Housing NSW is about to invoke the procedures spelt out in Sections 148 to 151 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. This the part of the Act which spells out the process that a social housing provider must follow if they wish to evict a social housing tenant who refuses to move to alternative housing. To date few social housing landlords have utilised this provision in the Act. Is this the endgame?

The sale of housing stock has been a goldmine for the government. Indeed, by the end of 2015, the NSW Government had raised $116 million from the sale of 47 out of the 250 Millers Point properties set to go under the hammer. Far more than expected.  Read more about the $3b sell-off here, courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald... and for the NSW Government's own link on Millers Point, click here.

The NSW Government remains intransigent on providing the remaining older residents a real choice, which would allow ageing-in-place for residents in their current homes. The alternative, which is supported by the residents, is retaining some of the units within the Sirius Building and workers cottages to maintain a semblance of a social mix. After all, that's part of the recognised value of the Miller's Point community.

You will recall that the Tenants’ Union’s submission to the NSW Legislative Council’s ‘Inquiry into Elder Abuse in NSW’ in November 2015 argued that what has been happening to older people in Millers Point can be seen as a form of elder abuse. You can read more here.

Again we say: NSW Government, you can do better than this!

Postscript: On 12 April 2016 residents received a further letter from Family and Community Services which again spoke of making a 'formal offer'. 

1 comment:

  1. if the government wants to make a real commitment to improving social housing and wants to get out of public housing in the next 10 years they could offer a99year social housing leases on all the remaining purpose built social housing in millers point including the Sirius Building . Darling house could be re housed on 1 or 2 floors of the Sirius Building and the rest as a miv of full market rent for 10 of the best appartments from the 79 apartments in Sirius 20 to a community housing provider backed by the union superannuation funds who have shown interest in investing in social housing with the remainder going to public housing tenants and darling House aged care. this mix would se it being financially viable and no ongoing cost to the government


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