While most households celebrated the festive season with a clear idea of where they will be living in 2016, the remaining residents of public housing in Millers Point have little idea of what the future holds. In mid November, the remaining 90 households were given four weeks to decide if they wanted to apply for a one-bedroom apartment in the area. But, only 28 apartments are available. The remaining residents, almost all of whom are on the age pension, will be moved to other areas.
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Millers Point: here for the long haul
A struggling single mum when she moved here 35 years ago, Wendy Ford isn't going anywhere soon.
The process of removing the residents of Millers Point by the state government has been badly handled from the start. The initial announcement on March 19, 2014, was made with no consultation. A letter was delivered to the 293 public housing households in Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks informing them that their home was to be sold and that they would have to move.
The decision was justified by the state government on the basis that the homes were old and extremely expensive to maintain, that it was unfair that so much money was being spent on public housing in Millers Point when 57,000 people were on the waiting list for public housing. The government said the money raised from the sale of housing in Millers Point would be used to build hundreds of new public housing dwellings.
This argument appears rational, though residents claim very little was spent on maintenance as there was a deliberate policy to run down the area, but it totally ignores the human and social cost of moving the 293 households affected and does not justify the refusal of the state government to properly engage with the residents and discuss alternative scenarios that would satisfy both sides.
Almost all of the remaining tenants in Millers Point are long established residents. Many were born in Millers Point and have an intense affinity to their homes and the area. As Dawn Caruana, who has lived in the area since 1968, commented: "I've always said you can take a house away, you know, but it is hard to take a home away. A house and a home are two different things. So a home is where your family are and your kids. You've brought them up. Your grandkids come and stay and all that sort of thing."
Flo Seckold, an 82-year-old resident, has lived in area for most of her life. Her husband died a week before the eviction letter was delivered. She is adamant that she won't move. "I just feel at this age that I should be able to relax … I think it is definitely [wrong] to move us old people around like we didn't matter … it is just so distressing and all we want to do is to stay here."
Research does suggest that when older people are moved against their will the consequences can be fatal. It has emerged that the state government ignored a report it commissioned on the potential consequences of the sale on older people. The report drew on a Swedish study that examined the mortality rates of 22,579 older people who had moved or not moved. The authors found that there was no difference in the mortality rates of people who had moved voluntarily and those who had not moved, but they did find "an increased risk of death among those who are exposed to urban renewal, both in the case of temporary evacuation and permanent moves".
There is little doubt that many of the remaining residents will find it traumatic if they are forced to move and there is every possibility that some residents will die prematurely. Given that the proceeds from the sale of public housing in Millers Point have now surpassed $116 million (much more than was anticipated) and with the stakes so high, surely it's time for the state government to enter into genuine negotiations with the remaining residents on the options for staying. To do otherwise would be inhumane.
Professor Alan Morris is professor of sociology at the Institute of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Technology, Sydney.