Friday, May 26, 2017

It was like leaving your family

Dancing with Bluey at Christmas

In September 2016, Shelter NSW published a report by Professor Alan Morris of the University of Technology Sydney 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'.

In an article in The Australian Journal of Social Issues, hot off the press, Professor Morris places the events at Millers Point in a broader context. His article is called '"It was like leaving your family": Gentrification and the impacts of displacement on public housing tenants in inner-Sydney'.

Professor Morris uncovers an early media release from then NSW Finance Minister who announced that the government was considering selling off much of the public housing in Millers Point, because 'the government needs to consider it in the context of all of the surrounding areas, including the Barangaroo redevelopment area.' [my emphasis]. Previously we wrote: 'Ponder ... the real agenda at Millers Point is to free up housing stock around Barangaroo for gentrification and to create a Paris Quarter ... a touch of Montmartre.'

Professor Morris argues that 'place' attachment of most of those interviewed was profound and the removal announcement and the actual move were devastating. Interviewees spoke of deep sadness and anxiety at the thought of leaving. Residents who had moved told of their isolation and melancholy at having lost their social network. He concludes:
The critical theorist warned of the implications of only utilising "instrumental reason" in the formulation of policy, arguing that you need to always take account of the human cost of any policy implementation. ... As illustrated, in the case of Millers Point and the Sirius Building, the focus primarily on the revenue that the sale of public housing stock will generate has resulted in enormous suffering. ... The move will exacerbate the already deep and growing spatial divide between rich and poor in Sydney and the social mix that was a feature of Millers Point will be obliterated along with its rich history. A major concern is that in this age of deepening neo-liberalism, the Millers Point / Sirius Building could be the start of a major state government offensive against public housing tenants in other sought after gentrifying / gentrified areas.
And this is all at a time of a billion dollar windfall in revenue from stamp duty to the NSW Government.

Back in March of this year, we reflected on the third anniversary of the announcement to sell all public housing properties in Millers Point. Here, we posed the question: if portfolios such as health and education are not funded by cannibalising themselves, then why must social housing be funded this way?

We update the sad statistics from a ravaged community.

At 25 May 2017, 151 properties have been sold for $400.89M, with a median sale price of $2.44M and sales in the range $1.47M and $12.30M. This represents 138 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 $686.81M. On top of this figure, stamp duty has netted an additional $21.08M, bringing expected total revenue from the sales to more than $700 million! This is far in excess of the Government's target of $500 million.

Yes, as of March 2017, the NSW Government has built or has under construction 764 new social housing dwellings across New South Wales from the proceeds of the sales. But at what cost?

At the beginning of the process 579 tenant and household members (in 399 tenancies) were to be relocated. At 25 May 2017, 555 tenant and household members (in 383 tenancies) have either vacated or are committed to moving, with a further 24 (in 16 tenancies) still uncommitted to moving.

So, Professor Morris's article is timely because the New South Wales Government is ramping up the pressure and evicting the last remaining public housing residents who have refused to move.

Sally Parslow and her dogs off to Court

On 20 April 2017, the New South Wales Supreme Court placed a stay on the first application to the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal by Family and Community Services Housing NSW seeking a possession order on the grounds that the tenant has refused offers to move to alternative premises. Read the story of Sally's last-ditch fight.

At 6.30am on Thursday, 10 May 2017, the Sheriff enforced a warrant of possession against Peter Muller, a tenant who was no longer eligible for social housing, despite being a public housing tenant for seven years and having lived in the area for two decades. This received some media coverage.

Indeed, they have also placed a Cyclone fence around the four remaining residents of the Sirius Building, one of whom is 90 year old Myra. The NSW Land and Environment Court shortly will deliver its judgement on action brought by local residents following the then Minister for Heritage's refusal to place a heritage order on the Sirius Building, despite a unanimous recommendation that he do so from his own Heritage Council. Read the latest here.

And some of the fighters amongst the residents reluctantly have agreed to move to other premises that the previous Minister for Social Housing set aside for them ...rather than risk homelessness. Here, Barney Gardiner (thanks, Barney) is seen taking down the posters that plastered the front wall of his home, where he has lived for the past 27 years. Others have moved away (go well, Patricia Corowa ... Yes, you have fought the good fight).

Barney moving up the road

As Millers Point becomes an enclave of the wealthy, let's not forget what has been lost. ABC's 'Open Drum' published the story of a daughter of Millers Point. She's the young girl dancing with Bluey, one of her mum's boarders in the photo at the top of this blog. John Blay is a writer, naturalist and walker. He has written extensively about the bush and its people in poetry, drama and prose. But back in 2012, John was a resident of Millers Point. He was forced out when the previous New South Wales Labor Government commenced the process of selling off public housing. Well, here's John Blay's recollections of living at Millers Point for more than 34 years:
I’ve now had numerous books published, mostly history and natural history that arose from my researches in State Archives and at the Mitchell Library, whilst based at my home nearby in Millers Point. But also I’ve written poetry and numerous plays. One, a bicentenary commission from the ABC called The Fleet, was focused on The Rocks / Millers Point district. The cultural side of the area has always been important, its raffishness, its bohemian, artistic atmosphere that passed down through Norman Lindsay, the Parker Galleries and the various art schools, not to mention the Rocks Markets. The richness of the district has always been an inspiration, the world heritage quality of the architecture along with a community that had been in place since settlement. Millers Point has in my view always been relatively crime free as a result of the close community relations. The stability of our tenancies, especially during the Maritime Services Board helped the sense of belonging. We believed we were there for life. Community leaders like Shirley Ball and Sally Parslow helped create the sense of solidarity and peacefulness. ... It nearly broke my heart when I was forced to leave Millers Point.
Read all of what John says here. You can read other residents' stories here.

In the NSW Parliament, Alex Greenwich, the local MP for Sydney, again has asked the NSW Government to let the remaining residents of Millers Point stay. He says that a compassionate approach can achieve the government’s aims while protecting vulnerable, long term tenants. Like in all our previous blogs, we also say it is not too late for the NSW Government to review the situation and allow the remaining residents to stay, especially the older folk who should be able to age-in-place. People like Sally and Myra. People like Chris and Christina, Ian, Barbara and others not mentioned in this blog.

But, NSW Government, time is fast running out. Very much so. A smithering of justice would be welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Oh gosh - our hearts break every day as we face the loss of our valued neighbours and despair at the lack of social justice, arrogance and ignorance to the long term financial costs to tax payers of this poorly thought out and ideologically led decision and process. #SaveOurSouls


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