(Private Member's Statement, 9 May 2017, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Millers Point was one of Sydney's oldest and strongest communities and long housed a tightly knit community of public housing tenants, private tenants, home owners and service providers giving each other support and companionship. The strong social cohesion and living heritage were recognised in its state heritage listing.
Sadly, successive governments have sought to dismantle this community beginning with the former Labor government’s 99-year leases of 32 heritage terraces, and ending with this government’s forced relocation and eviction of almost all tenants to sell most social housing homes in the precinct.
The community’s resilience was shown in the strong community campaign that arose to oppose the sales and support vulnerable tenants anxious about their future. People from across the area joined forces to save the community and their campaign got the support of the unions, the City of Sydney, the Redfern Legal Centre, state and federal MP’s and the wider Sydney community.
The Community Working Party of tenants, home owners and business operators worked to retain properties with low ongoing maintenance costs and the right size and accessibility for the most vulnerable tenants. Their proposal recognised the devastating physical and mental health outcomes of moving the most vulnerable tenants – as identified in the social impact assessment – while allowing the government to sell properties.
The Community Working Party met with former social housing minister Hazzard who took time to listen to and understand concerns. In response to the group’s hard work and advocacy, the government agreed to retain 28 properties on Kent and Argyle streets for the most vulnerable remaining tenants with compelling reasons to stay. This showed compassion in an otherwise heartless process.
The quarantined properties included 24 one-bedroom, one two-bedroom and three three-bedroom apartments. Because the overwhelming majority of properties are one-bedroom, they are not suitable for many vulnerable tenants, who need a second room for a carer. In response the government modified a number of properties to meet needs, but this has not been possible for all apartments and had a compassionate approach been taken from the beginning, more appropriate properties could have been identified.
I am working with the community to fill the last retained properties however many do not meet the needs of tenants who have not yet relocated and need to stay in Millers Point for health and family reasons. I would like to detail four tenancies for whom a relocation would be disastrous.
Myra is 90 years old, blind, has low mobility and has lived in Millers Point for almost 60 years. She has a strong network of neighbours who provide support to her including driving her to medical appointments. Myra moved to Millers Point before she was blind and her familiarity with the neighbourhood allows her to get around on her own. She needs a two-bedroom home and if she moves from this community, she will lose her independence.
Chris and Christina are long term Millers Point residents. Chris cares for Christina, who has a severe health problem that causes confusion, memory loss and an inability to form new memories. Her condition is deteriorating and she needs to remain in the home she is familiar with, where she has lived since 1954. It is likely that moving Christina to a new environment would induce a state of delirium involving hallucinations. I understand Chris is willing to relocate once Christina is no longer able to live at home.
Ian has ongoing complex health problems, including a heart condition and prostate and lung issues. He is undergoing a series of tests at a Sydney Hospital. He relies heavily on his neighbours for support and he will struggle without them. Ian wants to remain in his home until his health is stabilised, diagnosed and treatment in place, before dealing with the stress of a move.
Barbara is over 80 and has lived in the area all her life – in her current home for nearly 30 years. She is frail and relies on local networks for help. She needs a two-bedroom accessible home so her children can stay and provide support and there are retained properties in Millers Point that would suit her needs which I urge the government to consider.
The community will continue to work with the government for a win-win situation. It is in the government’s best interest to stagger the sale of properties and I call on it to use this opportunity to let the small remaining cohort of tenants who will suffer significant impacts from a move to age in place while the large number of already vacant properties is sold.
In a very sad foot note, some former homes now sold are being occupied by short term holiday rentals – indeed the local community has nicknamed Kent Street: “Rent Street”. It is a massive shame that the government dismantled such a rich, diverse, historic and cohesive community for short-term rentals that make a limited few a quick buck.