By Chris Sutton
Darling House in Millers Point may close down following the NSW government’s decision to remove a long-standing rent agreement.
This agreement, called peppercorn rent, is a nominal rental sum used to satisfy legal requirements. Darling House, an aged care home, has been paying $5 a week rent in a deal set more than 20 years ago and served to benefit the elderly. The facility will close in March as ageing residents seek new places to live.
The move has been made as the NSW government looks to earn market value for buildings such as Darling House. Other inner city community service sites are attempting to negotiate this removal. The Glebe Youth Service could have a decision as early as this week.
Some peppercorn rent agreements were as low as $1 per year, allowing services to focus on the support of the community.
Councillor Irene Doutney told City Hub that there were rumours about the removal last year but nobody believed the government would go through with it.
“Darling House is a beautiful house, it’s got 9 people living in it, why would they do it? I think it’s appalling to do this to seniors.”
Cr Doutney is concerned this will impact more non-profit community groups.
“It’s not just Darling House; in the report I read they talk about all peppercorn rents so that’s going to affect other public services and threaten community centres. The government removed the peppercorn rent so they can make money.”
Chairman of Darling House Aged Care Association Jim Warren informed City Hub that few members of Darling House have come from the Millers Point area, so it would not be particularly important to the wider community. He also didn’t agree that rent changes were the reason for closure.
“It would be quite incorrect to in any way suggest that Darling House is closing because of the pending removal of the peppercorn rent.”
Mr Warren was of the view that Darling House would have closed either way. He admits that while it is unfortunate, the service enjoyed a longer run than everyone expected.
“The removal of the peppercorn rent was only one of a number of factors considered by the Board in reaching its decision to close, and it is likely the same decision would have been made regardless of the rent.”
John McInerney, Chairman of the Millers Point Residents Actions Group, said he doesn’t agree with Mr Warren’s assessment.
“He may believe that. It has been a community funded and community supported organisation since the start, over 21 years ago. If you change the rent from 250 dollars a year to 200,000 dollars a year it has certain implications. It doesn’t make any logical sense really.”
A Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) spokesperson gave City Hub the following statement: “FACS is committed to retaining current leases based on existing conditions when they expire while any negotiations take place on new lease agreements.”
Deputy Lord Mayor Robyn Kemmis told City Hub that the closing down of Darling House is a tragedy and believes the peppercorn rent decision impacted the Millers Point service.
Millers Point has been at the centre of housing controversy of late, with squatters being evicted from an Argyle Place property in September as the government plans to sell hundreds of public housing homes.
Cr Doutney is focused on assessing all options to support the community, regardless of why the services are closing.
“I’ll be putting up a notice of motion to see if there is anything we can do. It was suggested to me that the only thing we can do is buy Darling House and I don’t think we could afford to do that.”
Cr Doutney believes all community services and centres will be threatened, especially in Millers Point.
“Millers Point is being cleansed, it is being wiped out. I hear over 40 percent of the residents are gone, so they’re being very successful. And when you’re dealing with older people, you’re too old to fight anymore, and it’s a terrible outcome to move all these people out, and to me it bodes badly for what is going to happen to other heritage housing in the future.”
Mr Warren was asked if there had been discussions between the government and Darling House.
“We have been advised the Government is reviewing all its rental arrangements. This review is ongoing, and new rentals are unlikely to be determined until about July next year. Darling House continues for the time being to enjoy a peppercorn rent.”
The timing of the decision is an issue for the residents currently living on the premises, and one that Cr Doutney doesn’t understand.
“What’s the hurry? It just looks like a big disaster. Where are those residents going to live?” said Cr Doutney.