What it’s really like
Amidst Housing NSW’s glossy brochures and promises of better opportunities in a new home, Millers Point residents have heard many stories that tell a different tale about what being relocated is really like. Some were initially positive about moving and for others the idea was palatable as they were hoping for a house without steps or somewhere bigger, to be closer to family or with a yard for their dog, but even for these people it seems, forced eviction has being a very negative experience. The new house often has problems apparent only after moving in and some have been surprised at what it means to be in a place where no one knows your name. For those for whom Millers Point was very important for their well being it seems that it has been at best traumatic, sad and a massive change, resulting in unexpected new stresses and loss. At worst it has resulted in tragedy. Below are the first in a series of stories told as much as possible using the person’s own words.
What does having a specialist relocation officer entail?
This is the Government’s name for those charged with evicting tenants. Here is some of what we hear about having one and the eviction process:
‘They are very nice to you at first’
They tell you ‘You will only get to choose from three places, now it’s two places, you feel as though if you don’t take what is on offer you will get nothing you need’
‘One said ‘You won’t be seeing me around much longer’…I asked ‘Why?’ and she said ‘I have filled my quota’
‘A friend of mine and her child were given a four bedroom house with a yard in the inner West; much more than allowed but my family were told we could only have three bedrooms and that is barely enough’
‘She was nice but very pushy to get us out as fast as she could. She told us she would help in any way but she can’t as we are not with Housing now – you are really on your own’.
‘Moh (one of the Relocation Officers) made us stop after taking photos of us painting over the hoardings. The art work looks much better than the bare boards, especially as someone keeps ripping down the photos and stories of residents’.
‘They are much nicer to you when you’re being interviewed in front of the legal team at the “Harry Jenkins centre”.
Feedback from those who have moved:
A house with no steps, but no hot water either
‘Deidre’ moved into a house that was free of steps but discovered that she was without hot water. She came back to Millers Point for two weeks so she could shower in the community centre.
No room at the inn
Many people are told and believe that they have to take what they are given. Vera was strongly ‘encouraged’ to move and allocated a house without enough bedrooms for all of her children. One is now homeless, returning to Millers Point for company but is homeless and living on the streets.
A long way from Millers Point and into community housing
Natasha and her family moved in July. “The house is really too small for the family being three bedrooms but that is all we are allowed. The relocation officer was pushy in some ways. The first house she wanted us to take was tiny but she said if we didn’t take this one, we would have to take the next one no matter what. We are with W…..community housing. It’s very different and we wish we stayed with Housing NSW but they don’t have Housing Commission out here. We have had two inspections in 9 weeks and have to ask for everything we want to do to the house. We had to pay for everything up front in terms of the move and then Housing pays you back but that is difficult to find the money. We pay more in rent, and have just got a bill for water and still have to get the phone and internet line in. We were here 8 weeks before they said they were going to paint and fix some of the house. My husband had to fix the back door as the screen was off, and we have to wait until they put up a fence up at the back. We are saving up to do the front fence ourselves as they don’t provide that.
One neighbour is rude asking for food and smokes but we have given the smokes up. The other neighbour on the other side swears, screams and their dog barks all the time. We have had to block our side of the house off so the dogs don’t go near the fence so the neighbours dog don’t bark.
One of my daughters now has to travel an 1 hr, 40 minutes to her job in the city and my other teenage daughter gave up school after all that change.
‘We moved but are not happy at all that we won’t go back to our home… these sound like silly things but we were happy with Millers Point’
Where no one knows your name
‘Wayne’ was one of the earliest to move after living his whole life in the area. Despite being one of the younger residents, he was shocked at what it is like living in a place with no real connections. He even misses the arguments he used to have with one of his neighbours and regrets moving now.
They promise the moon and don’t deliver
After feeling much stress and pressure, ‘Mercy’ moved away from where she lived just up the road from the church that is so important to her and her family and from the community where she felt very connected. She really did not want to go but it seemed promising as it meant she would be only 5 minutes from her daughter and grandchildren. But on top of what was a trauma to move, Mercy now has stressors she did not anticipate. They were given a larger house with a much larger yard but she is no longer connected to others. Public transport is harder to navigate, the bus stop is far away and she has to walk up a hill on the way home. She is in suburbia, which for many people, especially those who don’t drive, is an isolated existence. Her daughter says ‘She doesn’t have the same freedom and food shopping is more expensive as she only goes to the local centre instead of to Paddy’s markets which she did religiously every weekend for almost 30yrs’.
The house is located in a well to do suburb and Mercy feels great pressure to maintain the appearance of the property and is finding that there are more expenses such as frequent lawn mowing. Mercy who survived the Franco regime, says the eviction officers promise the moon and don’t deliver. “Hitler would be very happy with this Government” she says.
Chronic stress, ill health, hospitalisation, death
We have seen a dramatic spike in hospitalisations, serious injury and illness and indeed the process is killing people as predicted.
Within weeks of the announcement an elderly neighbour who was somewhat reclusive but functioning well having lived with her son in Millers Point for over 30 years, took her life.
A woman who had been battling cancer for some time and living in a house with mould that Housing NSW never remedied was moved out of her home on the Wednesday, went to hospital on the Friday and died on the Monday.
We have lost at least three others including a young man this week. Leroy was born and lived in Millers Point all his 26 years. He was well liked and involved in the local rec centre and a valued employee of The Rocks Pharmacy. He lost his mother just 12 months ago and was found to have passed away, the day before he was to be taken to his ‘new home’
‘You will be treated with the uttermost respect’
As promised by Pru Goward on the day of her announcement. Here are some other examples of her apparent interpretation of the meaning of respect:
- Following the suicide of the elderly woman above, a grieving friend erected a small memorial on behalf of her neighbours in sandstone saying ‘Angela lived here’. Housing removed it almost immediately, she replaced it, they removed it again.
- Communal lights have been switched off as the number of residents in an apartment diminish.
- After banning tenants from common areas in Sirius, staff of Housing NSW’s contracted cleaning company held a NYE party with alcohol and upwards of 30 staff with their families in these areas.
- Contractors of Housing NSW are ruthlessly removing the art displays in Millers Point despite these just being photos and stories of residents, many of which were actually collated by Housing NSW themselves.
- Tenants being pitted against each other with ‘housing lotto’ so that tenants get to bid against each other, and ‘win’ properties making them feel very privileged and grateful, all while being evicted
- Protest banners are also ruthlessly removed from the area even if they are on Church property or a person’s private property. None of these banners are inflammatory and are an important part of a community expressing its dissatisfaction and anger in a healthy way, after being treated with the uttermost disrespect.
If you have other stories, good, bad or otherwise please email me firstname.lastname@example.org
The Phillip Room in Sirius has been taken over by the Relocation Team. It is where they run Housing Lotto. Paddi accompanies another local resident Pam as she looks through the lists and brochures for properties that residents can bid on that week. There are computer-based presentations, and a bus to take people to view properties.
Each tenant’s Relocation Officer is also their Welfare Officer. It would be interesting to learn how the Relocation Officers divide these tasks. Owen’s Relocation Officer helped him pack for a while on the day he left Sirius. Owen reported that he held out as long as he could before agreeing to be relocated.
The day before Owen was relocated, there was a variety of messages for Harbour Bridge traffic on the western side of Sirius, including Owen’s three-word ministry – ‘One Way Jesus’ – shining out from his 7th-floor flat, and from the 8th floor a flashing SOS in lights and a Save Millers Point sign. The messages were removed soon after Owen was relocated, but a record of them remains.
Please note that many names have been changed where contributors fear retribution.