A recent community barbecue organised by Millers Point public housing tenants showed the close knit nature of this community and highlighted the damaging uncertainty that it has been placed in by a proposed government sell-off.
The ‘Back to the Point’ picnic invited Millers Point residents to show their support for the community and was assisted by the Maritime Union of Australia in recognition of the suburb’s maritime heritage. Many of the homes that are now public housing were originally built by the Maritime Services Board to house their workers back in the early 20th Century, when the area was a working harbour. The homes were eventually handed over to the government department that became the Land and Housing Corporation (LHC) and it was assumed this body would keep them to serve as housing for low income earners in perpetuity.
This all changed a few years ago when the then state Labor government started hinting that they might sell off some of these valuable properties. The hints have since grown into the commissioning of a ‘social impact assessment’ on the effect of selling these properties, a process that continued with gusto once the Liberals came to power.
Calling it an assessment however is likely a misnomer as I doubt the intention was ever to genuinely assess anything; in all likelihood the report is intended to provide a justification for the pre-existing policy of selling off houses. The questions, which haven’t been made publicly available and which locals were only able to answer on the LHC’s computers, were reportedly worded so as to achieve this outcome. The report was completed six months ago yet the government is now refusing to make it public, likely so as to avoid the inevitable community backlash. They won’t tell anyone what the report found and requests in parliament for it to be released have been met with obfuscation.
If the social impact assessment does indeed support the sell-off it will be in contradiction of another recent government report, in this case one produced by an independent body that wasn’t required to reach a pre-determined outcome. This report, by the NSW Auditor General, found last year that selling public housing is financially unsustainable. The poor condition that many public housing properties are in means that selling a property usually only brings in about one third of the money needed to build another equivalent property elsewhere, resulting in a net loss of housing stock.
The government really needs to show its hand on Millers Point as the uncertainty is hurting people. Not only is not knowing whether you’ll lose your home bad for people psychologically, the fact that these properties might be sold off means that they’re not being maintained properly and that at least 40 of them have been sitting vacant for months or years, an unconscionable situation while we have 55 000 families on the public housing waiting list in NSW.
Back to the Point showed how much people value this community. The government needs to stop hiding behind expensive secret reviews and tell the people of Millers Point straight up – will they get to stay in this community or are they going to be sent packing?
For more information, see this recent article published in Central magazine.