(Private Members Statement, 17 November 2015, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Millers Point has a long history of providing housing for workers, the vulnerable and the elderly.
Not long ago the area supported over 500 vulnerable people in almost 400 social housing tenancies in a tight knit community of public and private tenants, home owners and service providers who look out for each other and provide support and care.
Now only about 100 tenancies remain with most properties empty and awaiting sale to the private market.
This is a result of an ill-founded policy to sell homes in areas of high value to fund housing on the fringes of the city far from jobs, transport and health and welfare services. It goes against world’s best practice of providing a diverse mix of housing across a city, with low cost housing included in areas of high value. The policy puts social housing tenants in any area at risk of eviction if values rise.
Implementation of the Millers Point sales process has generally been concerning.
Soon after coming to power, the coalition government began reviewing all public housing properties in Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks. In response, the community tried to work with government to find a win-win situation such as selling only vacant homes while residents age in place.
We successfully got the review of properties to include a social impact assessment on the social costs of displacing vulnerable tenants from their homes.
As expected, the social impact assessment showed that relocation would have devastating health and welfare impacts on vulnerable tenants. Evidence shows that moving people late in life from well-established communities and supports into other areas or into aged care results in faster deterioration in health and reduced life quality and expectancy.
But the government did not take these findings into account and pursued a wholesale sell-off of all Millers Point social housing, including the homes of the most vulnerable tenants.
Government officials frantically letterboxed notices to tenants to inform them of their looming eviction while the then minister made a public announcement. Many tenants were not home and found out through the media or when they read a letter slipped under their door. This caused extensive stress and anguish among tenants.
Throughout the media, the government claimed that these were luxury homes with harbour views and heritage restrictions making them expensive to maintain; but many are low key purpose-built and accessible small units.
The prospect of splitting this community apart has brought residents together. A group of tenants and residents established the Community Working Party who I have been working with to lobby the government to let the most vulnerable tenants stay in their community and age in place, in line with government ageing policy.
The SCG Economics report: Millers Point and The Rocks: An alternative way forward, identified existing properties that are in good condition, have low ongoing maintenance cost and are of an appropriate size and accessibility to meet the needs of older tenants and could continue to provide social housing.
The Community Working Party has been calling for these properties to be retained while the government sells other properties. A staged sale would reduce disruption to the community and individual tenants while ensuring a better return by not flooding the market with properties at once.
In response to the Community Working Party’s hard work and advocacy, the government agreed to retain 28 properties on Kent and Argyle streets for the most vulnerable remaining tenants who have compelling reasons to stay. I strongly welcome this provision and congratulate Minister Hazzard for finally including compassion in this process.
While the community greatly appreciates this offer and will work to help those most in need stay, there is great concern that the most vulnerable people will have to move because 24 of these properties are one bedroom and the most vulnerable people will need a second room for a carer.
Other properties could be retained to ensure that those who would experience real hardship from a relocation could stay.
Multi-unit properties sold for redevelopment should be required to provide a minimum number of social and affordable housing units, with these properties reserved for existing Millers Point housing tenants. This is being done in Macquarie Fields and Glebe as part of estate redevelopments and should form a model for redevelopment across the state.
While the government has provided some relief for existing tenants, under the current proposal, many who should stay will have to move. Older tenants and those with strong community ties must be able to remain in their homes or be relocated to suitable accommodation within this precinct.
The achievement so far is testament to the strength and perseverance of this community to stay together. I am committed to continuing to work with Millers Point residents to ensure that existing tenants can stay.