Friday, June 15, 2018

The numbers near the end of the Millers Point struggle: 28, 42 and 200 million

Backyards in Kent Street, Millers Point: Mrs Mac feeding cats, washing blowing on the line, 1985 © Susan Dorothea White

Our title juxtapositions the numbers 28, 42 and 200 million! What is the significance of these numbers? Well, these are the end days of the Millers Point struggle and, in a recent article, Patrick Begley (The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 June 2018, p1) headlines his electronic copy: 'Sally has 28 days to leave her home of 42 years.' But he uses a different heading in the hard copy: '$200m bonus from Millers Point sale'. Let's tell the stories behind these numbers.

28 and 42

In March 2014, the NSW Government decided to evict all the social housing tenants in Millers Point and the Sirius building in The Rocks. To date, 578 tenant and household members in 398 tenancies have been forced to vacate their homes, with one lone surviving tenant. On 7 June 2018, the Supreme Court ordered this tenant, Ms Sally Parslow, to vacate her home within 28 days (by 5 July 2018). Having rejected Ms Parslow's claim to a life tenancy on her home, Justice Guy Parker found that he had no option but to give her only 28 days to vacate her home. (See Paragraphs 203 to 207 of his published decision.)

The time period of 28 days is a by-product of the Government's anti-social behaviour legislation. The short time period is due to the operation of s154G of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. This section was an amendment which formed part of the Residential Tenancies and Social Housing Legislation Amendment (Public Housing - Antisocial Behaviour) Act 2015, but it flows on to all social housing (including community housing) tenants before a court or Tribunal, even though their eviction has nothing to do with anti-social behaviour. This section requires a possession order to take effect in 'no more than 28 days', unless there are 'exceptional circumstances justifying a later day'. At law, the words 'exceptional circumstances' have a very high bar. This phrase occurs nowhere else in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 nor its Regulations. It is most commonly used in criminal law matters.

The home had been Sally's for 42 years but speaks to the much longer history of the area and property Sally lives in and others in the area. The judgment describes the history in some detail, and is worth reading. Briefly, the home had been built between the 1840s and 1860s as accommodation for wharf workers. At the turn of the 20th century the government acquired the properties and for nearly a century, first under the Sydney Harbour Trust and later the Maritime Services Board, there were 60 boarding houses run as commercial enterprises. People like Sally used the premises as their home, but also took on both management and risk of running the business. Here's the story told by one daughter of Millers Point. The cost of building the premises never touched the government purse, and even maintaining the premises was with the resident boarding house operators like Sally until 1985.

$200 million

At today's date, there had been 180 sales raising $570.7 million, plus stamp duty of $30.8 million. You can check these sales here. In keeping with requirements outlined in the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009, NSW Property keeps a record of all contracts, including property sales over $150,000 in a Property NSW Contracts Register. These are published and details must remain on the register for 20 working days, or until the contract is complete, whichever is longer. Go to here and click 'PNSW - Government Contracts Register'.

Altogether, 26 properties are still to be sold. 16 properties (comprising 4 sales) in High Street are currently on the market. A further 2 properties in Lower Fort Street are yet to be placed on the market. 8 properties (comprising 2 sales) in Dalgety Road apparently have been withdrawn from sale. The Sydney Morning Herald article refers to 'a final 11 lots are due to be sold this year, including the historic apartment building Sirius'.

In November 2015, the then Minister for Social Housing, Brad Hazzard, set aside 28 properties for remaining tenants and household members.  By late February of this year, 21 were occupied by 19 tenancies. Of the remaining 7 units, 1 is on hold and 6 remain unallocated. The Government will receive a big thank-you if it gives some of the previous residents, who were relocated but now isolated and lonely, the option of taking up the unallocated units.

But Millers Point has changed forever 'from struggle street to billionaire’s row'. You can read the promotions for the 'Workmen's Dwellings', one of the refurbished block of apartments, here (Domain: New Living, The Sydney Morning Herald, 18-19 May 2018 pp 14-15).

A conservative estimate of the total funds from sales to date (which excludes the Sirius building and 28 units where sales have been deferred) is $596 million. The real estate industry estimates $120m plus from the sale of the Sirius building. This provides an estimate, all round, of $716 million. Patrick Begley writes:
When the government announced in 2014 it would sell off social housing in inner-city Sydney, it predicted sales of about half a billion dollars. But Justice Guy Parker, summarising evidence from two [NSW Land and] Housing Corporation witnesses, found "the revised estimate is that $700 million will ultimately be received."
(This quote comes from Paragraph 145 of the published decision.)

You can check an update of FACS Housing webpage for how the proceeds have been spent. We previously wrote an article about delving behind the figures for new social housing dwellings here. Hal Pawson from the City Future's Research Centre at the University of NSW provides a critique, arguing that Housing NSW is overselling its social housing commitment. You can read his analysis here. He concludes:
Thanks to the property boom of the past few years, government has enjoyed a massive revenue bonanza through stamp duty income ... the actual stamp duty income recorded in recent years has amounted to a windfall of no less than $18.25 billion in excess of that “counter factual” revenue. And yet none of this booty has been channelled into expanding social and affordable provision ...
Returning to the title of this article. The Supreme Court gives the sole surviving tenant of Millers Point 28 days to vacate, after 42 years in her home and the Government stands to exceed its expected takings by $200 million. Millers Point changes forever. New social housing dwellings are being built using these monies, but in nearly all cases, they are not close-by. None of the Government's bonanza from stamp duty income has been channelled into expanding the provision of social and affordable housing.

Thankyou to Susan White for kindly allowing us to use her watercolour and pen print called 'Backyards in Kent Street, Millers Point: Mrs Mac feeding cats,washing blowing on the line'. 

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