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Eviction looms over Welfare Street tenants

Source: Lauren O'Connor

By Joe Bourke

A legal battle continues between property developers Centennial Property Group (CPG) and residents of Welfare Street, Homebush, who refuse to be evicted.

In December CPG, under offshoot company HBW No 1 Pty Ltd, auctioned the 12 properties for $4.7 million.

Letters of eviction were delivered on November 7 just two days after settlement. The 12 families were told to be out before Christmas.

Kurt Begnell is a resident of Welfare Street, and was present at the auction of his house.

“Before they started to auction our place I just went out with our documents and said ‘look, if you’re a potential purchaser, do you know what you’re in for?’”

“There’s an ongoing legal battle, we’ve actually purchased this house years ago and we’ve got proof, we’ve got evidence and we’re protected tenants.”

“I got ushered away and the police were going off at me, yelling, saying ‘get out of here!’” Mr Begnell said.

The Daily Telegraph published an article about the auctions on the December 20, praising the day as a good sign for Sydney’s property sector.

Fairfax’s Domain reported on December 22 the ‘Homebush auctions turned violent,’ and quoted  auctioneer Ricky Briggs as saying a protestor “grabbed a buyer, and grabbed one of our staff members.”

The protester in question, Mr Begnell believes the police present were biased towards the buyers and auctioneers and reports of violence were overblown.

“They started pushing me. The Strathfield Partners, some of their staff started to push me, that’s assault and there were police there. If someone had filmed. it would have given evidence that they pushed me first… I didn’t react, I didn’t do anything.” Mr Begnell said.

John Higgins a former security guard at Fairfax printers in Broadway and a tenant of Welfare Street said he was threatened by two ‘security guards’ on the day of the auctions.

“They had two ‘heavies’ watching me on auction day. They came down with a really bad, threatening attitude towards me. They were supposed to be security guards but they weren’t wearing a licence.”

“He told me, ‘your ancestors came here with balls and chains around their legs and my ancestors came here with gold chains around their neck.’”

According to investigative journalist Wendy Bacon, the houses in Welfare Street were built as affordable housing for Homebush Abbatoir workers in the early twentieth century.

The Sydney Olympic Park Authority (SOPA) became the owner when it took the land over from the Abbatoir in preparation for the Sydney Olympics.

Lyn Begnell’s husband Bruce bought their home in 1966 and paid it off to the abattoirs by 1984, but have had problems since SOPA took over the management of the houses in 1989.

“In 1989 the Sydney Olympic Park took over the management of the houses and then they got Bruce, and I believe it was under duress, to sign a lease to say that he was going to start paying rent.” Ms Begnell said. “They did tell him that if he didn’t sign it they were going to evict him and that the original agreement wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.”

Bruce Begnell a former beef-slaughterman at the abattoir was in and out of hospital eight times in the last five months. Being legally blind means leaving the house would be extremely difficult for him and the eviction notice was unexpected.

“My husband was told he could stay here until he died and if his wife survived then she was to stay in the home, that was the agreement. So what’s the point of entering into a contract if there’s no integrity?

“It’s very distressing for my husband, he’s not a well man at all and the other men down the back – they’ve got emphysema and another has brain tumours… they’re all elderly, they expected to live here all their life,” Ms Begnell said.

Mr Higgins said during the process he stood by his elderly neighbours who were treated without compassion by both the real estate agents and property developers.

“It’s just how they’ve done it, more or less to herd us up like cattle and ‘get out of our way very quickly so we can make our millions,’” he said.

“There’s been no alternative accommodation offered. I was the only one offered any money as I had to be from our lease of 1948. They made $4.7 million our of selling the twelve houses and I was the only one offered any money whatsoever and it was $10,000.”

Regardless of widespread reporting that seven families have left Welfare Street housing, Ms Begnell said most are determined not to leave.

“The estate agent said that seven people have left. That’s not true, there’s only three people that have left and they were short term anyway.” Ms Begnall said.

Mr Higgins, who has lived in the house since he was one, said he considered going homeless and could not afford the rental market.

“I’m a pretty easy going person and I’ve got my faults too… but when it comes to it I think if you can’t stand for what’s right in life what’s the good of it all?”

Spokesperson for Marrickville Legal Centre said they were approached by the tennants when eviction notices were delivered.

“Our position is that the remaining tenants are…protected by the 1948 Act and there will be ongoing negotiations.”

Regardless of the battle ahead, the remaining tenants with the support of Marrickville Legal Centre will to fight to stay.


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