By Triana O’Keefe and Michael Koziol
The state government’s decision to sell 293 public housing properties at Millers Point may yet be overturned, Lord Mayor Clover Moore has said, if there is sufficient community action.
At a rowdy April 7 council meeting, attended by more than 60 residents and protesters, Cr Moore acknowledged: “I have not been advised by the minister that the decision is reversible.”
But she reminded the crowd that ministers have been known to change their minds, particularly in the face of community activism.
Liberal councillor Christine Forster accused the Lord Mayor of being “completely ineffectual” and offering false hope to tenants.
“Just as she found with the rainbow crossing, sometimes we just don’t get what we want,” Cr Forster said.
“We should not be wasting ratepayers’ money fighting battles we will not and cannot win.”
The council committed $100,000 to the Redfern Legal Centre to assist tenants who believe their legal rights may have been infringed. Cr Moore also called for the NSW government to halt the sale, allow frail and elderly tenants to remain in their homes, and reinvest funds in new homes in Millers Point if the sale does proceed.
Deputy Lord Mayor Robyn Kemmis told council that if the sale proceeds it will create an enclave for the wealthy.
“[Sydney] may be rich in dollars, but it will be poor in every other way,” she said.
Greens councillor Irene Doutney spoke of the impact on residents.
“Many of the tenants have suffered anxiety attacks, panic attacks and distress,” she said.
“One elderly resident has even had a heart attack.”
Cr Forster and fellow Liberal councillor Edward Mandla attempted to remove the $100,000 cash grant, arguing it would be useless and that tenants already have sufficient access to legal aid.
That drew howls of protest from the public and the intervention of the Lord Mayor, who described Cr Forster’s performance as “totally insensitive and inappropriate”.
“I know it is hard and even though what they are saying is abhorrent, you need to listen in silence,” she told the gallery.
Signs carried by protesters labelled the evictions “barbaric” and deemed it “social cleansing”. “Christine: have you got a liscence [sic] to drive the removalist truck?” one sign asked.
Independent councillor John Mant, formerly a bureaucrat, explained that the Department of Housing’s shift to accrual accounting means the rate of return of public housing properties is now measured against what would be expected at current market value. That led him to believe that further inner-city sell-offs are on the cards.
Cr Mant argued there is nothing wrong with council helping residents exercise their legal rights.
“All of these tenants have legally registered leases and need to be aware of the avenues they can take to fight this decision,” he said.
“[The decision] is no doubt a political ploy to bolster Liberal Party votes in the inner city.”
As part of the support package, council will also provide $10,000 to the Millers Point Community Defence Group, a collection of existing resident groups who have banded together to fight the sale.
Barney Gardner, spokesperson for the Millers Point, Dawes Point & the Rocks Public Housing Tenants Group, welcomed the package and holds out hope that Ms Goward’s decision could be reversed.
“I think they can change their mind,” he said.
He told City News that while residents had not yet been relocated, Department of Housing officials are inspecting properties and tenants are seeking legal advice.