Government moves to evict residents

The NSW Government is moving to evict the remaining residents of Sirius and Millers Point and tie up sales of its properties. Robert Mowbray from the Tenants Union provides the following update…

The NSW Government’s cannibalisation of public housing in Millers Point continues. As at 11 July 2017, there have been 151 sales, some of multiple properties. Altogether the sale of 200 properties at Millers Point has raised $422.77 million (with a further $22.09 million being generated in Stamp Duty!). The median sale price is $2.30 million and sales range between $1.44 million and $12.30 million, with the top price being a block of 12 one-bedroom apartments covering 7 properties sold in one line.

And by May 2017, elsewhere a total of 528 units have been completed and 278 units are currently under construction as a result of this revenue. You can read about this on Family and Community Services’s dedicated website here. In a recent media release the Minister for Social Housing, Pru Goward, boasts about the 500th unit: ‘This is a great day and a very important milestone. These sales are helping the NSW Government provide vital housing for some of our most vulnerable people across the state.’

At the beginning of the process 579 tenant and household members (in 399 tenancies) were to be relocated. By the end of May 2017, only 24 tenant and household members (in 16 tenancies) remained. Today the number is fewer.

But recent articles on the Tenants’ Union of NSW blog called The Brown Couch refer to the human cost of evicting a whole suburb to fund new public housing. These articles update what has been happening in Millers Point. They also refer to the work of Professor Alan Morris of the University of Technology Sydney who has documented the experiences of residents in a report called ‘A contemporary forced urban removal: The displacement of public housing residents from Millers Point, Dawes Point and the Sirius Building by the New South Wales Government’. He followed up this report with journal articles analysing the process. Professor Morris concluded that, in the case of Millers Point and the Sirius Building, a focus primarily on the revenue that the sale of public housing stock will generate has resulted in enormous suffering. Yes, this program is driven by a neo-liberalism agenda and a mind-set that leads to ‘administrative evil’ where the the human cost of getting things done has little or no weight: ‘… when instrumental rationality is dominant in policy-making, then little or no attention is paid to the human cost, so long as the policy is viewed as effective.’ It leads to the ‘financialisation of housing’ where housing is no longer viewed as a home but as an asset … The supreme irony is that, we see a State Government in New South Wales which now is boasting massive surpluses, but nevertheless sees the relocation of all social housing tenants in Millers Point as the only way of funding social housing!

Indeed, there is a link between the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy and what is happening in public housing across first world countries. Joseph Downing writes in the Conversation (15 June 2017):

‘Yet as the ashes settle, it is clear that the threat of ruin extends well beyond Grenfell Tower. Indeed, the policies which I argue have contributed to this disaster have been rolled out across social housing projects both in the UK, and across Europe. Earlier this year, not far from Grenfell, local residents in Westminster voted against any form of refit to their notoriously poorly-maintained Brunel Estate. And many residents across London fear the prospect of “urban regeneration”, seeing it as a type of social cleansing, shorthand for a modern form of slum clearance.’ (Read the full article here.)

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