Congratulations to Herald journalist Nicole Hasham for being the first to report the change of mood in the government regarding Millers Point. Nicole quotes new Social Housing Minister Brad Hazzard: “I’m not ruling out trying to get more public housing in and around the Millers Point area and … the CBD because there are a lot of older residents who’ve been in that area for a long time.” His statement appears to mark a change in government thinking, especially as it occurred on the same day the minister talked to Millers Point residents, agreeing to meet and look at alternative plans that would allow older and long-term residents to remain in Millers Point.
How residents came to talk to Brad Hazzard was that a media contact alerted me on Thursday to the minister’s visit to Millers Point. I contacted residents to meet me outside 50 Argyle Place which was being shown to the media by the minister and Housing staff. Number 50 is one of the grand old houses the community has been calling on the government to sell. It is going on the market next week.
We knew the minister had spent the morning showing the media new public housing at Lurnea which he is describing as built with the proceeds of Millers Point property sales. The government’s argument is that it sells one Millers Point property and builds five or ten new townhouses elsewhere for public housing. Although this argument is well known, fewer people know that the Millers Point community has also been calling for the sale of the Millers Point mansions which became public housing almost by accident. The government has not been able to maintain these properties and they are falling apart through neglect, water penetration and the Termite Highway (Housing NSW’s name for the termite nests that run through many of the empty houses of Millers Point).
Everybody is on the same side of this argument: sell the grand old homes of Millers Point. Where opinions differ is in respect to the community. We believe the houses can be sold but the community kept in Millers Point. Not many people know that the community is heritage listed by the State Government, which is one reason for keeping it. (Shirley Fitzgerald highlighted this listing at NSW Parliament a few weeks ago and Shirley’s notes from her presentation will appear soon on this community website.) Another reason is that it has a high proportion of old, vulnerable, long-term residents who prosper within this community because they have strong ‘circles of support’. This is a community where people know and look out for one another. Relocating the elderly and vulnerable members of this community away from those who support them will result in their isolation, loss of independence, decline in health, and a few more might die as has happened in a handful of cases in the past twelve months. The government should celebrate this thriving community that includes a high proportion of social housing tenants. This is a success story for public housing.
How to save the Millers Point community begins by selling all the 19th-century houses, starting with those that have been vacant for many years. Houses that are still occupied could stay as they are for now, especially if the tenants are elderly and long-term residents, and sold later, or the residents could move to other accommodation in Millers Point or if they chose, be relocated out of the area.
At the beginning of the 20th century the government had a massive flat-building program in Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks which coincided with its redevelopment of wharves, wharehouses and roads. These workers flats are far more modest and less valuable than the 19th-century houses. They are also in better condition. All or some of these could be retained for social housing. Similarly, from the 1970s Housing NSW was building many flats in the area. The most prominent of these is the Sirius building in The Rocks, which is in good condition. It could be retained entirely, or some of the more valuable units could be sold and the others kept for social housing, which would provide a better financial outcome than even the most optimistic calculations by the government for its sale.
The government has so far refused to consider alternatives to the complete sell-off of Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks, and previous ministers have neither met nor visited the community. Alerted by media contacts that Brad Hazzard was visiting Millers Point, I contacted other residents and waited outside 50 Argyle Place while the minister briefed the media. John M, Paddi and Pam arrived in time to meet the minister and together we talked about saving the community. Brad Hazzard responded favourably and has agreed to meet with us and other representatives of the community. Barney arrived just as the minister was leaving and was also able to speak with him.
It is a massive change for us to report that Brad Hazzard talked to us, agreed to meet us again, and said, “I’m not ruling out trying to get more public housing in and around the Millers Point area.”
Please share this good news and stay with us in the campaign to save Millers Point.