Millers Point: one year on

Millers Point: one year on

(Alex Greenwich, 19 March 2015, Sydney Morning Herald)

It's one year since the state government began the mass sell-off of all social housing in Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks, and moving low-income, elderly and vulnerable people away from their homes and supportive communities.

There is a long history of public housing in Millers Point and surrounds with the Maritime Services Board providing homes for waterfront workers since the early 1900s, then giving properties to the then Housing Commission to house public housing tenants.

In just 12 months the government has dismantled this safe and cohesive community, relocating over 300 tenants; the fewer than 100 tenants left are supposed to be moved this year. What was a rich, living, cultural and social heritage precinct now has more than 200 homes vacant.

Millers Point provided connection and support to tenants – it was not a large estate with social problems. As we warned, relocation caused significant anxiety and social isolation, particularly in older tenants fearing separation from long-time friends and community. Some tenants were hospitalised and some died, and many blame the stress of being forced to move.

Over the last 12 months I've worked with the community to propose alternatives including allowing frail and elderly residents – those most likely to suffer from a move – live out their tenancies in line with the government's "ageing in place" policy. Properties could be sold once they passed away, but the government refused this compassionate approach.

Yet fewer than 10 properties have been sold, and more than 60,000 people are on social housing waiting lists. This is wasteful and shameful. Surely the most vulnerable tenants could have stayed in their homes?

Former Millers Point tenants now live in over 200 social housing properties in other areas. No new properties have been built as a result of recent sales and there are no plans to reinvest funds in new properties. This undermines the government's claims that the sales will result in more social housing – so far there are fewer homes and no tracking of where funds are going.

Much of Millers Point housing is purpose-built low cost including small units, "walk-ups" and one bedroom apartments. These will be sold for high-end redevelopment. Nearby at Barangaroo, developers want their already small affordable housing requirements dropped. It is no wonder this looks like "social cleansing".

The process raises broader concerns over government policy to sell off inner city functions, services and assets including CBD government offices, harbour land and now the Powerhouse to make the city little more than developer-designed luxury apartments. Great cities are socially diverse and this requires a broad housing mix.

Vulnerable people with complex health and welfare needs or who are frail and aged, who cannot afford market rent or to buy a home, need secure housing close to support services, jobs and transport. It is bad economic and social policy to push these people to the city fringes.

Social housing plays a vital role in all civilised societies. This mass sell-off is a heartless grab for cash at the expense of our most vulnerable people and our city.

Alex Greenwich is member for Sydney.

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