Millers Point is the site of the first social housing in New South Wales – in 1900, during an outbreak of bubonic plague, the NSW Government resumed the wharves and surrounding land, almost accidentally becoming a landlord to the workers who lived there. Before that it was one of the first suburbs in colonial New South Wales.
Now the future of social housing in Millers Point is under a cloud – or, in the NSW State Government's words, 'under review'. Finance and Services Minister Greg Pearce announced the review in the media late last year, and subsequently confirmed in Parliament that the Government was considering the disposal of 208 social housing properties in and around Millers Point. This would represent all of the social housing in Millers Point and Dawes Point, and would follow the 36 properties already disposed of, or slated for disposal, by the previous State Government.
As part of the review, the NSW Land and Housing Corporation has engaged a consultant to conduct a social impact assessment (SIA). We understand that a preliminary report from the SIA may be made around the middle of this year, with the final report to come later in the year. As for the review itself: we don't know when that will conclude.
One thing is clear already: there is very strong feeling amongst tenants that no-one should have to leave their homes and that social housing must be maintained in and around Millers Point. In February a packed meeting of tenants elected a committee – the Committee of Residents Elected by Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks, or 'CoRE' – to represent their interests in the review process. Tenants can contact CoRE by email: coremillerspoint[at]gmail[dot]com.
A bit more background. The social housing at Millers Point has an unusual history – quite apart from its genesis in the black plague. For decades the properties were owned by the Maritime Services Board, and were transferred to the Department of Housing in the 1980s. And because of this unusual history, the buildings are unusual too.
Many of them are listed on the State Heritage Register. About 50 of the properties were used at some time as boarding houses; in fact, after the Department of Housing took over, 35 boarding houses continued to operate under long-term leases. The last of those leases ended in 2009; since then, some have been managed by a community housing organisation, Bridge Housing; some have been let to individuals; some have been left vacant; and some have been disposed of. Late last year (and apparently separately from the current review), the Land and Housing Corporation lodged applications with the City of Sydney to change the use of its remaining boarding houses to individual occupation, ahead of their disposal.
About the disposals that have already happened, or that have been slated to happen. In 2006, the State Government announced that 16 vacant properties would be put up for sale to private owners – actually, not quite sold, but rather disposed on 99-year leases. Of the 16, 10 were former boarding houses. Proceeds from the disposals were supposed to be used to fund social housing acquisitions in the inner west. In 2010, a second tranche of disposals was announced – 20 vacant properties this time, and they will include at least some former boarding houses – but we don't know when these disposals will actually take place. Again, proceeds were supposed to go to social housing in the inner west... giving the troubling impression that the same benefit (more social housing in the west) keeps getting trotted out for each new lot of disposals. A proper accounting of the disposals and acquisitions has not be done.
The TU is in contact with CoRE and will present some of their work on the future of social housing in Millers Point in another post soon.
In the meantime, why not have a look around this wonderful neighbourhood yourself, either on foot or via youtube.