It is now three weeks since the NSW Government announced plans to sell off the Millers Point community, kicking out the low-income, elderly, vulnerable, and hardworking people who have looked after this suburb for decades.
It is important to correct the government’s spin aimed at misleading the public. Media outlets were shown a few terraces that are deemed ‘too good’ for public housing tenants but the reality is that many of the Millers Point properties to be sold are low key and small walk-up units, without a view apart from a very noisy and dusty construction site at Barangaroo. The ‘massive subsidies’ the government alleges tenants receive are nothing more than accounting entries based on the difference between the ‘market rent’ that someone made up and the rent the tenants pay. In fact, according to the Tenants Union, Millers Point tenants have paid around $4.25 million in rent over the past two years alone. Many have been making their own repairs and fixing up their homes, because the government has neglected them pretty much since the Maritime Services Board gave the homes to the then Housing Commission to be used for low cost housing. The National Trust recognises the heritage significance of the community and called for an immediate halt to the sales process and evictions. Millers Point is listed on the state heritage register as a ”living cultural landscape” with ”an unusually high and rare degree of social significance” with the community included in the listing. Since the announcement a number of legal, heritage, health, economic and housing experts have raised concern and confusion. Disturbingly the government’s announcement breaches its own “aging in place” policy and ignores specific recommendations in its social impact assessment, which warned of significant risks of moving elderly people away from their home and community. Peter Phibbs, a Professor of urban planning at Sydney University, said ‘the big risk for an older person is social isolation, the last thing you want to do is move someone out of a network where people keep an eye out for them and they can navigate their way around a neighbourhood”. My office has heard first hand from a number of elderly residents who have been hospitalised following the governments eviction announcement. One resident, John Arnold, wrote to me after his neighbour Milic passed away last week. Milic had expressed great anxiety over being separated from his friends and community. John wrote “At least now Milic you will not have to worry about us being separated and not need to fear, worry or stress about how a government can just move an entire community. This is a very scary thought how people can just be shoved and bullied by politicians”. The economic argument doesn’t stack up either. Flooding the market with 300 similar properties within a short period is unlikely to get the “best deal”. In the future when land values increase, the benefit will be to developers and not the public. The inner city has the largest social housing waiting list because it is close to health services, jobs and public transport. The Auditor General identified the massive need for additional housing stock and condemned sell-offs as a poor solution. There is no question that selling dwellings purpose built in the 1980s to provide inner city social affordable housing will leave us with even less housing stock where we need it most. The city needs a diverse mix of people and since my election I have worked with residents and the State Government on solutions to protect Millers Point. Sadly all alternatives to the planned fire sale were rejected without justification. However, there is some good news in sight. The City of Sydney has allocated funding to support the community’s legal challenges and I have requested the Select Committee on Social, Public and Affordable Housing subpoena all sales-related documents and explore alternative plans that would allow one of Australia’s oldest and strongest communities to continue to do our city proud. Alex Greenwich is the independent member for Sydney in the NSW Legislative Assembly.