Thursday, October 29, 2015

Renting laws under review in New South Wales

The long awaited Statutory Review of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 is upon us!

To kick things off, Fair Trading NSW has released a high level discussion paper, seeking input on a range of issues. The paper includes background and commentary on a number of known areas of concern for both landlords and tenants, and raises 42 specific questions for consideration. It also invites comment and discussion on any issues not raised. Submissions are invited, with a closing date of January 29th 2016.

As you might imagine, the Tenants' Union of NSW will have a couple of things to say. We've previously outlined our key concerns with the Act in a report we circulated in July: 5 years of the Residential Tenancies Act. But we'll be talking with as many people as we can between now and the end of January to make sure our submissions reflect the views of tenants, advocates and all right thinking folk across the community(!)

To that end, we'll pull out a few of our favourite questions for discussion on the Brown Couch over the coming months.

To start with, here's question number 33 (with background commentary):
Commentary: There have been suggestions that 'no grounds' terminations be removed and that the landlord be required to provide a grounds for termination from a prescriptive list of possible reasons. This proposal would need to balanced against the view that landlords are entitled to deal with their property as they see fit. 
Question 33: Should landlords be required to provide a reason for terminating a tenancy? If so, what types of reasons should be considered?
It's interesting that Fair Trading sees the need to balance this proposal against the view that landlords are entitled to deal with their property as they see fit. We see no such need. Quite simply... a landlord can deal with a property as they see fit, subject to the terms and conditions placed upon them by a regulatory scheme such as the Residential Tenancies Act. The Minister for Fair Trading now has an opportunity to consider those terms and conditions, and reform them for the better. We say he should.

There is a distinction to be made here: property owners are entitled to deal with their property as they see fit. If, in dealing with their property, they choose to become a landlord, they opt into a scheme that is regulated in a particular way by law. This law, it is said, intends to balance the "competing interests" of those who buy and sell property as a means to acquire wealth, and those who live in it. But these interests are often more in conflict than competition, so finding the right "balance" has always been tricky...

Let's be clear, property owners are under no obligation to become landlords. They are entitled to deal with their property as they see fit, but... usually they can't afford to hold property without collecting any rent. They need it to put towards their holding costs - most notably the interest on loans they've taken out, so they can become a property owner.

Tenants, on the other hand, are finding it ever more difficult to take that leap. For some, becoming a property owner is not even an option, and they see a future of renting, renting and renting some more. But even where a household rents as a matter of choice, there is no good reason to say their landlord should treat their home as though it were a vacant property.

Once a landlord invites a household to take possession of a property, granting a right to occupy, they've begun trading in more than just bricks and mortar. They've begun trading in other people's security as well. They've started trading in other people's well-being. Other people's aspirations. Other people's hopes and dreams.

... and they're relying on them all to acquire wealth through property.

If we take that as our starting point, we can't see the controversy in asking landlords to take one or two things into consideration before deciding how to deal with property. The best way to do this is to get rid of their ability to end tenancies without grounds, and give them an expanded list of reasons that they can use instead.

Now - we've got some ideas about what those reasons should include, and more importantly what they shouldn't and how they might be tested to ensure they are genuine when relied upon. But we'll leave it at that for now, because we'd like to hear from you.

Drop us a comment if you've ever been hit with a no-grounds notice of termination. We'd love to know the real reason behind it...

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mythbusters: Boarding House Edition

'If the prostitutes and criminals don't get you, the ice addicts, deviants, and bums surely will. Why just look at them now, the usual suspects leering at you from their den of ill repute - or 'boarding house', which I do believe is the technical term:

"We'll get ya!"

I assume they paint the boarding house walls in the style of a police lineup to save time. Save yourself while you can - run to the hills (district)!'

Or so went the dominant view surrounding the application for construction of an eight-room boarding house in Cromer, on Sydney's Northern Beaches. Warringah Council's Development Assessment Panel granted development approval last week despite an overwhelmingly predictable backlash. Approximately 800 individuals made submissions to council regarding the development. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, just 0.12% - that is, one - of the submissions were supportive of the project. The record shows those 799 dissenters included Social Housing Minister The Hon. Brad Hazzard MP, Warringah Mayor Michael Regan, and the Principal of a neighbouring primary school. 

The following comments are not attributable to any of those persons, but do give an idea of the flavour of much of the opposition:

"Most [boarding houses] are filled with ice addicts, heroin junkies, paedophiles and jail birds. Please stop this from happening asap [sic].."

"Not only because there is no control over who will be living there (paedophiles???) but also because the children might be exposed to drug/alcohol related problems."

Clearly, these are serious numbers and very serious allegations. So how could the Cromer boarding house have been granted approval? Does it evince a disregard for community safety and interests? Perhaps a sign of arrogance - hubris even? The undue influence of property developers? Or could the opposition campaign be extraordinarily misguided in multiple respects?

Lock in D for the full million, Eddie. It is difficult to know where to start in debunking the opposition to what should be an entirely uncontroversial development.

But let's start with what exactly has been approved. As Warringah Council's report on the development application provides, the Cromer project may be categorised as a 'new generation boarding house'. Earlier this year, the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute ('AHURI') released a discussion paper which defines the term. And the truth is less than earth shattering: "blocks of small 'studio apartments' or in some cases one-bedroom apartments with separate bathroom and kitchenette". And those undesirables? According to AHURI, they are largely a mix of professionals, students, and shift workers, often paying in the vicinity of $400 a week in rent.

So don't believe the hype. The Cromer development is a largely ordinary apartment block, set to be inhabited by an 'ordinary' cross section of the community. 

Somebody please think of the children!

But even if the project better resembled a more traditional boarding house, the 'addicts and criminals' claim would not hold water. As the AHURI report states, traditional boarding houses are indeed home to "some of society's most excluded and vulnerable individuals...". But the assumption that vulnerable residents bring danger and degradation is simply not borne out. 

Just look at Cromer itself. According to Fair Trading's Boarding Houses Register, its postcode of 2099 is already home to two such boarding houses. The neighbouring postcodes of 2098 and 2100 also contain one each. And there are likely more still, as the AHURI report notes: "...there are strong grounds for believing that the actual scale of NSW boarding house provision is understated by the Fair Trading register...the numbers registered with Fair Trading as at August 2014 were considerably fewer than those formally approved to operate as boarding houses by the council concerned." 

The reality is that the people the campaign so fears will move in are already living in and around Cromer, possibly in considerable numbers. And yet the sky has resolutely failed to fall. Fear and loathing inspired by the vulnerable of our community is simply wasted. 

Finally, the notion that a development application should be refused on account of objections such as those raised in this matter does not concord with how planning law works. Broadly, a development application is assessed according to its compliance with technical and dispassionate criteria, such as height limitations and permitted use. Subjective contentions such as those raised by the opposition here do not get a look in. This quote from the NSW Land and Environment Court, relied upon by the panel in approving the Cromer project, puts it best: "The consent authority must not blindly accept the subjective fears and concerns expressed in the public submissions...there must be evidence."

So forget the hysteria, loud as it may be, and rest easy. This development will not send Cromer to hell in a hand basket. Indeed, this has all happened before, as the seemingly prophetic words of a boarding house proprietor quoted in the AHURI report make clear:

"When [council] has the notification period...all hell breaks loose. There's a residents' action group that's formed, there's agitation from them, you'll have 40 people come to the Council meeting, all throw their arms up, 'there'll be derelicts here, there'll be drug dependents, etc., not in our back yard, get rid of it. Make sure you refuse Mr Council and Mr Mayor and make sure it goes away'."

Far from devastation, the Northern Beaches are as safe as boarding houses. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back to the Future for Renters

Today, the 21st of October, 2015 is Back to the Future Day. Movie-goers are celebrating the day that Marty McFly arrived in the future in the second film of the series. Marty came originally from 1985, and it made us wonder what had changed.
So what did renting look like in 1985? See below- the short story, there are many more renters than there used to be, and we're paying a lot more rent! Wages haven't gone up as much as rents have, and groceries have barely gone up at all (in fact in real terms, the kinds of items we've included here have come down in price).

Also in 1985 then NSW Housing Minister Frank Walker announced the first tenants advice services to be funded by the interest earned on tenants bonds. This was a big step up in capacity from the previous network of entirely voluntary services. At the time, we were the first state to utilise bond interest money in such a truly innovative, sensible way.
Now in 2015 we're asking for those services to continue to be funded at fair and sustainable levels in the More Bang for Your Bond campaign- in just a few weeks time we'll be presenting our petition and postcards at parliament house. Details to come, but there's still plenty of time to show your support!

Great Scott!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Three easy fixes for better strata living

The new strata laws are in parliament, and the debate most likely starts today. The laws comprise of two separate bills, the Strata Schemes Development Bill, and the Strata Schemes Management Bill. There has been a lot of discussion of the issues around the Strata Schemes Development Bill, but today we'd like to look again at the Strata Schemes Management Bill which governs the day-to-day ways in which strata living is managed.

At the moment the bill misses an opportunity to reflect their 21st century context, for more than half of the people who live in strata in NSW. We've previously shared our detailed thoughts on the bill, but there are three easy ways to make sure strata living is fair and balanced for all residents, including tenants.

1. Tenant representation

Tenants who live in schemes where 50% or more lots have tenants living in them will be able to elect a tenant representative to sit on strata committee meetings and participate in committee meeting discussions, but will have no vote, no capacity to move motions, and can be excluded for a number of decision-making processes.
All tenants of all schemes will be informed that a strata committee meeting is taking place and will be able to attend, but not participate in any way.

We think all schemes should allow tenant representatives- arguably, it is the schemes where there are fewer tenants that most need to be reminded of their existence and concerns. Tenant representatives could also be empowered to move motions and vote on non-financial matters, such as new by-laws. There are no schemes where a tenant representative could vote their motion through against the will of the majority of owners, so this change would go a long way to making the community a better place to live, with no harm to owner-occupiers or investors.

The easy fix: Remove s33(1) to allow all schemes to have a tenant representative (if the tenants choose)
The bonus: We also recommend an amendment to allow a tenant representative to move a motion on any matter for which they are not excluded.

2. Unfair by-laws

For tenants, by-laws are perhaps the most significant aspect of a strata management scheme. In the absence of provisions allowing direct participation in a scheme – such as those discussed above – a tenant’s interaction with a strata scheme will usually be in relation to its by-laws. If the by-laws are unlawful, harsh, unconscionable or oppressive, they can be challenged at Tribunal and possibly overturned... but not if you're a tenant being subjected to those by-laws.

Tenants are excluded from challenging by-laws, and the Tribunal not permitted to overturn them, even if the tenant could demonstrate they were unlawful. This could then be used by a strata committee to issue fines and again, the Tribunal may not be able to refuse, simply because they are being applied against a tenant and not an owner. This is clearly an unfair situation.

The easy fix: Allow tenants to challenge unfair by-laws under sections 148-150.
The bonus: Allowing tenant representatives to move motions and vote on non-financial matters will mean better by-laws.

3. Overcrowding

We accept the need to address overcrowding in strata schemes for a range of reasons, but think it's important to remember that overcrowding is very often a symptom of broader dysfunction across the housing system – most notably the lack of affordable housing in the private rental market and ever-increasing restrictions on eligibility for social housing assistance.
The main method of pursuing overcrowding will be through the issuing of fines by the strata committee- $5500 for the first offence after a warning. However, this fine could potentially be directed at any person who is residing in the place, even if they are the exploited sub-tenant. We think that whether it is the owner of the property or the head-tenant, the person profiting from the overcrowding should be held responsible for it, not the people living in cramped and sometimes dangerous situations.

The easy fix: Amend s 147 so that penalties can be applied to 'a person with an identifiable interest in the lot' (whether they are an owner or a tenant), and not simply 'a person.'
The bonus: Introduce a section preventing strata blocks 'locking out' residents by cancelling swipe cards without good reason.

For more on Tenants Union policy platforms including law reform and previous submissions, visit our website!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Six year rule ... yet another reason why private renting is so insecure

(Money, The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 October 2015, pp 4-5)

Private rental housing is both legally and structurally insecure.

It is legally insecure because in NSW (and other Australian jurisdictions) landlords may give termination notices without grounds. The Tenants' Union of NSW calls for greater legal security by reforming the law to provide for termination on reasonable grounds only. Read more here.

It is structurally insecure because the private rental market is enmeshed in the owner-occupier market. Most landlords are individual persons who own a single rental property for speculative purposes. They sometimes are referred to as 'mum and dad' investors, but we call them amateurs. Indeed, there's a myth that most 'mum and dad' investors are on average incomes.  This assertion is debunked here.

Up until 2010, studies found that between 7 to 10 per cent of income units across Australia were investors in the residential rental market, although this figure was closer to 5 per cent in New South Wales.  Research into the motivation of landlords in the private rental market may be found here. There have been no more recent studies.

It is highly likely that the above figure is much greater today, because of a significant increase in funds being lent by financial institutions for investment in residential housing. Indeed, figures published by the Australian Tax Office in April of this year show that just over 15 per cent of individuals who lodged tax returns in the 2012-13 tax year, both across Australia and in New South Wales, reported receiving rental income. You may view these figures at Tables 4 and 13 here for Australia and Table 2 here for New South Wales. Also, results from Australian Bureau of Statistics' 'Survey of Income and Housing', published in October 2015, show that across Australia in 2013-14 there were 1.5 million households that owned residential property other than their usual residence. This property can include properties purchased as holiday homes as well as an investment. Read more about this here and the analysis by The Sydney Morning Herald's Peter Martin here.

We have previously argued why the current structure of the private rental market in Australia does not deliver just outcomes for tenants.  Read more here.

Taxation policies encourage speculative activity. Let's look at three such policies...

Firstly, negative gearing ... an individual who negatively gears is operating at a loss: that is, the rent coming in is less than the repayment of the loan. However, they are relying on capital gain when they sell in order to make their profit. Our tax laws allow landlords to deduct interest payments from all their income, not just their rental income or capital gains, thus reducing the amount of tax they pay. For 'mum and dad' investors to maximise their capital gains, they need to be able to sell their property with vacant possession when it suits them, selling to either owner-occupiers or other landlords. This means that a sitting tenant receives a termination notice. Out they go! You may wish to read some of our previous posts about negative gearing here and  here .

A second policy ... when the owner of a property, acquired before 20 September 1985 dies, then generally that property must be sold within two years, otherwise the beneficiaries of the estate are liable to pay capital gains tax. You can check this out here. Again, the estate will want to sell the property with vacant possession. Again, out goes a tenant in order to maximise the capital gain!

And a third, little publicised policy ... it is not just when the landlord sells a property that the tax laws may entice them to give a termination notice to the tenant. Read the first Question and Answer in  Noel Whittaker's column in Money in The Sydney Morning Herald (14 October 2015, pp 4-5) which you can view here.  Well, there's more about this here.  And, this is what the Australian Tax Office says here.  In order to claim an exemption from payment of capital gains tax, the owner of that property must not rent it out for more than six years at any one time. They need to establish that it was part of their principal place of residence for some of this period. But each time that the owner moves back into the property (it again must be their principal place of residence), they revive the six year rule. So after just under six years, out goes the tenant and the landlord moves back in. But then the landlord moves out again ... and in comes another tenant, but with no capital gains tax when the landlord eventually sells.

'Six year rule' goes something like this ...

Only your main place of residence is exempt from capital gains tax.

A dwelling is no longer your main place of residence once you stop living in it. However, in some cases, you can choose to have a dwelling treated as your main place of residence for capital gains tax purposes, even though you no longer live in it.

This happens when you lived in the property straight away after buying it (being a date after 20 August 1996), but subsequently you rented it out for less than six years.

And, each time you live in the property (it must be a genuine main place of residence), you revive the six-year rule ... and here-in lies the lurk!  

If you rented out the property straight away after buying it, the Australian Taxation Office deems it to be purely an investment property.

Such strategies are encouraged by our tax laws. Tenants in the private rental market will only achieve greater structural security by policies that discourage speculation in housing and that, instead, foster an increased number of institutional landlords. Institutional landlords would be motivated more by the pursuit of rental income and less likely to trade properties in the owner-occupier market. You can read more about the structural changes that we believe would deliver greater housing justice to tenants in the article called 'New face of poverty: older private renters' (Tenant News, No 110, August 2015, pp 10 -11) which you may view here.

And so 'Six year rule' is yet another reason why private renting in Australia is so insecure ...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Antisocial Behaviour Bill passes Legislative Council

The Government's Residential Tenancies and Housing Legislation Amendment (Public Housing - Antisocial Behaviour) Bill 2015 has now passed through the Legislative Council. A motion to refer the Bill for further inquiry did not succeed.

Further amendments, proposed by the Christian Democratic Party, were agreed to before the Bill was passed. These amendments will ensure the Tribunal retains some of its discretion in matters concerning "one strike evictions".

Essentially, the amendments are a combination of proposals put by Government and the Opposition - the Tribunal's discretion will not be removed in cases where injury or damage is caused by a person other than the tenant; or where termination may cause undue hardship to a child, a person in whose favour an apprehended violence order may be made, or a person with disability.

It's not much, but it's something... Rather than have its hands tied, the Tribunal might find a way to wriggle out of causing injustice, when social housing landlords try to end tenancies without full knowledge or consideration of the facts.

Otherwise, the Bill remains as proposed by Government. For more details, including the Hansard record, see here. It now returns to the Legislative Assembly for concurrence, then to be made into law.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Antisocial Behaviour Bill in the Legislative Council

Yesterday the Government's Residential Tenancies and Housing Legislation Amendment (Public Housing - Antisocial Behaviour) Bill 2015 was introduced in the New South Wales Legislative Council.

We understand the Greens have moved a motion to refer the Bill to a Parliamentary Committee, for further inquiry. The motion calls for the "bill to be referred to Standing Committee No. 2 for inquiry and report and in particular, whether the provisions of the bill are appropriate for effectively addressing antisocial behaviour in social housing; the impact of the bill on social housing tenants' access to fair and just review process; and any alternative legislation, administrative or policy approaches which may provide more appropriate redress for antisocial behaviour in social housing."

Debate on the Bill has been adjourned to allow Members to consider this motion, as well as a number of amendments that have been proposed by the Opposition and the Greens.

The Tenants' Union hopes all the Honourable Members of the New South Wales Legislative Council give the motion to refer the bill for inquiry the consideration it deserves.

Given the lack of consultation during the production of this Bill with tenants, community workers and other interested parties, an inquiry of this kind should be welcomed. It would provide a much needed opportunity to discuss the problems this Bill seeks to address - the specific causes of anti-social behaviour and the impacts upon neighbourhood cohesion; the reasons why it appears to be more prevalent within social housing communities; and the kinds of policy and legislative responses that may actually address such problems in a meaningful way.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Want to help a cash-strapped landlord? Pay more rent!

We were alerted to the news of Sydney's latest 'biggest rent hike in xxx years' with a tweet from Domain editor Anna Anderson:
The article cites Domain Group's latest data, which puts Sydney's median rents at $530/week - an increase of 3.9% over the year. Other news outlets - citing other data - have Sydney's median rent at $592/week, with a growth rate of just 1.9% p.a. Go figure.

Or better yet, check out our rent tracker series to see why these data sources don't always give us the whole story...

But whichever way you look at it, the rent is pretty damned high.

Now that we're in agreement on that, let's take a closer look at the way the data gets reported.

Domain calls on the Domain Group's senior economist, Dr Andrew Wilson, to explain. He says it's all about an "undersupply" brought on by changes to the way investment loans are structured. Higher interest rates and higher upfront costs, he seems to suggest, are either passed on to tenants in higher rents or they result in a loss of rental supply as potential investors opt out. This, coupled with "strong immigration" to Sydney, will put the squeeze on rents for some time to come.

Business Insider provides another analysis, with RP Data's Cameron Kusher telling an impossibly different story:
The major factors contributing to slower rental growth are the construction boom across the capital cities coupled with slowing population growth, along with low mortgage rates and the heightened level of activity from investors.
It's hard to know which kool aid we should prefer here, or why they can't just talk to each other and get their story straight... Have artificial barriers to investment suddenly caused a reduction in the supply of willing landlords, or is an increase in new dwelling construction and investment activity taking the edge off capital gains? Either way the result may be the same - a slower market for speculators, with landlords going for yields rather than gains.

But in a market where prices are not supposed to go down, increasing yields means fishing for higher rents. And for many, this will be a simple matter of survival. Without the prospect of strong capital gains, many landlords will be unable to wear the ongoing losses. Those not in a position to sell up and cash out may see no option but to try to increase the rent. The Domain article picks up on this, when quoting Parramatta real estate agent Edwin Almeida:
A lot of people are cash-strapped and need higher yields to substantiate their property purchase.
This begs the question - with rents always going up and up and up, what gets our landlords crying poor?

The answer is simple: unaffordable housing. Landlords need to borrow extreme sums of money in order to purchase property. As prices go up, so does the amount of borrowed money flowing through the housing system...
... and, as we've discussed before, it costs an awful lot to service this debt. In fact, paying the interest on loans is the single biggest expense that landlords must cover - this absolutely dwarfs every other major cost. Rents go some way towards covering that expense, but in recent times landlords have traditionally relied on capital gains and preferential tax treatment to make their costly investments worthwhile. It stands to reason they'd become skittish when gains start to look a little less assured.

All the same, perhaps rents have continued to rise faster than they've needed to. Data from tax returns shows that NSW's landlords received $2175.00 more in rent per property in 2012-13 than they did in 2009-10. But their expenses, over that time, increased by a much smaller amount - an average of only $880.00 per property. This is in spite of property values increasing dramatically, giving landlords plenty of gains to bank on without having to dip into their tenants' pockets for higher rents.

Please do remember this, and have a nice warm, fuzzy feeling when your landlord comes a-knockin', cap in hand, because they need a little help to substantiate their property purchase...

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

You shall not covet your neighbour's house

On March 19th 2014 the O'Farrell Government announced the proposed sale of 293 public housing properties in Millers Point and the Rocks. Now, just over 18 months later, Dr Robert Mowbray provides a sobering look at the impact on this unique inner-suburban community, and its resident tenants...


You shall not covet your neighbour's house (Exodus 20:17) - Millers Point 18 months down the track

Just over 18 months ago the Hon. Prue Goward MP, then Minister for Family and Community Services, announced the sale of all public housing in Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks, including the Sirius Building. The stated reason for the sale was the high cost of maintenance, significant investment required to improve existing properties to an acceptable standard and the high potential sale values of property assets on the Sydney Harbour foreshore, with the proceeds to be reinvested into the social housing system across NSW.

Previous articles on this blog (check them here and here) and on the ‘Friends of Millers Point’ website (check it here) have debunked some of the myths used to justify the sale of properties in Millers Point. The second of these articles makes the point that there's no plan for the sustainability of the social housing system generally: no asset portfolio strategy, no estates strategy, despite the recommendation by the Auditor-General.

There were 293 properties marked for sale in Millers Point. This affected 600 people and 409 tenancies.  Many of the tenants were over the age of 65 and relied upon neighbours, as well as hospitals, doctors, public transport and other support services close to the city. Many of the tenants have lived all their lives in the area and have strong community connections. Indeed, Housing NSW’s own publication Millers Point Oral History Project: Summary Report reported on page 6: 
Millers Point … has a very integrated community who love living there and have a sense of belonging and allegiance to the place.  … The residents have a rich reservoir of memories of living at the Point, going, in some cases, as far back as six generations. They were born, worked, lived and died in the houses at Millers Point. They also have a strong sense of history and heritage. It’s a community within a community where everyone knew each other through work and place of living  [my emphasis].

The NSW Government’s own consultant, Cred Community Planning noted that:
… 55 per cent of Millers Point tenants have lived in the area for over 10 years, and that 12 households have lived in the suburb for at least five generations. For many residents, the state government’s plan to sell their homes is not only an attack on the basis of their livelihoods but an attack on their emotional and historical links to the suburb. Cred recommended that some of the funds from the sale of homes in and around Millers Point be used to build new social housing properties nearby, especially for elderly residents, adding that they may experience “ongoing negative impacts of stress and poor health outcomes”. ... The state government dismissed this recommendation, and said that they want elderly residents to “build connections in their new communities” [my emphasis again].

You can read about this here. You may also wish to check out the excellent presentation on Millers Point by The Sydney Morning Herald, available here.

The NSW Government gave itself two years to empty the suburb of its public housing tenants and complete the sale of its properties. Well, these properties now are highly sought after real estate.  Just in the last month three properties facing Barangaroo Headland Park reached between $2.46 million and $3.30 million at auction.  You can check these sales here. Prior to these auctions, News Corporation reported that the NSW Government has generated $64 million in revenue from the sale of 29 properties.

Millionaire realtor and TV personality, John McGrath, has anointed The Rocks (read ‘Millers Point’) as one of ‘must-have addresses’ in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane. He is quoted as saying:
As a shift in the housing stock moves from Government owned to private dwelling there is bound to be a massive upgrade to these beautiful harbourside Georgian and Victorian homes. Plus a significant change in local amenity that usually follows such upgrades. With the recently opened Barangaroo Point park, a 5 minute walk to the CBD & Barangaroo commercial precinct, this is fast becoming one of the most fashionable addresses in Sydney.

Previously, John McGrath was reported as saying that he is a great believer that money, like many things, can be used for good or bad. Well, is it good or bad to covet the houses of others? Likewise, from last year, check out Issue 2, 2014 of Lifestyle Guide which targets Sydney’s most affluent residents. It reads: 
What to buy ... My tip for the most popular and affordable entry into The Rocks is the Sirius Apartment development. ...  The 79 apartments have a retro feel and require minimal refurbishment. In contrast, the terraces and freestanding homes will need a much more extensive renovation and could take up to four years of love, sweat and tears to renovate. It is a lengthy investment of both time and money but in the end, you will own an important part of Sydney’s history in one of the best locations in Australia. Priceless.

In mid-July of this year the Heritage Council of New South Wales called for submissions in regards to the listing of the Sirius Building on the State Heritage Register (you can view the Tenants’ Union’s submission here). The action by the Heritage Council has revealed a rift between government agencies, as reported in the Daily Telegraph:
FACS wants to sell the building to raise money for more social housing, just as it has with several other Millers Point public housing properties, and said it was preparing its own submission to the Heritage Council. An Office of Environment and Heritage spokeswoman said: “Listing on the State Heritage Register does not prevent the sale or transfer of a property."

Ponder ... the real agenda at Millers Point is to free up housing stock around Barangaroo for gentrification and to create a Paris Quarter ... a touch of Montmartre. Of course, this must be seen in the context of the development of the casino being built on the same site.

So, what has happened to the residents? 

By mid-September 2015 approximately 95 to 96 properties remained tenanted, with 130 to 135 residents still holding on. Most of the others have moved voluntarily, but for many the move was under duress. Shelter NSW’s newsletter Around The House (No. 101) documents some of these in the article 'When older people are forced to move' (see from page 18):
Once upon a time the inner-city areas were seen as slums and we aspired to live in the suburbs. Now this is reversed; and former inner-city areas are being transformed into exclusive enclaves of wealth and opportunity. In a search for new funds for public housing, the State Government is cashing in on this gentrification in an attempt to generate dollars. All public housing tenants in The Rocks, Millers Point and Dawes Point at the northern eastern edge of Sydney’s CBD have been told they must leave. The government’s excuse is that these properties are too valuable to retain for public housing and too expensive to repair. 
As a consequence, Myra faces eviction. She is 88 years old and blind and has lived in the Millers Point community since 1959. Through her own determination and with the support of those around her, she is able to lead an active and independent life. Myra is a volunteer church and community worker and an inspiration to the people who know her. The State Government wants to ‘relocate’ Myra away from the only place she knows. If Myra is forced to leave, she will lose her independence.  
Richard is a single chap in his 80s. Recently he signed papers to move to Newtown because his greatest fear was that they’d dump him in Campbelltown. He’s been in Millers Point for over 60 years and worked in the bond stores. Richard moves slowly now and has to stop regularly for breath. But others in Millers Point keep an eye on him. He tells people that if I fall over in the street at Newtown, they’ll step over me because no-one knows me … or rob me. I know if I fall over in the street here, my friends and neighbours will look after me. 
Just one week after telling this story, Richard fell over in Kent Street. Locals rushed to his assistance and he was carted off to hospital where friends and neighbours visited him. The pressure and worry has become too much for Richard and he moved just a few weeks ago. 
Over recent months, social media has run stories about Myra … and also Mary Vo, Flo and other older residents of Millers Point facing eviction. Read all their stories here. On the ABC’s Open Drum the uniqueness of Millers Point is penned very poignantly by the daughter of another resident. 
One local resident is documenting the impact of forced relocation on the tenants. She writes: “Amidst Housing NSW’s glossy brochures and promises of better opportunities in a new home, Millers Point residents have heard many stories that tell a different tale about what being relocated is really like. Some were initially positive about moving, and for others the idea was palatable as they were hoping for a house without steps or somewhere bigger, to be closer to family or with a yard for their dog. 
“But even for these people, it seems, forced eviction has been a very negative experience. The new house often has problems, apparent only after moving in; and some have been surprised at what it means to be in a place where no one knows your name. For those for whom Millers Point was very important for their well-being it seems that it has been at best traumatic, sad and a massive change, resulting in unexpected new stresses and loss. At worst it has resulted in tragedy.” 
She goes on: “We have seen a dramatic spike in hospitalisations, serious injury and illness and, indeed, the process is killing people as predicted. Within weeks of the announcement an elderly neighbour who was somewhat reclusive but functioning well, having lived with her son in Millers Point for over 30 years, took her life. A woman who had been battling cancer for some time and living in a house with mould that Housing NSW never remedied was moved out of her home on the Wednesday, went to hospital on the Friday and died on the Monday. We have lost at least three others ...” 

A film by Blue Lucine and produced by Helen Barrow and Tom Zubrycki entitled 'Millers Point: Community or Commodity?' was released at Parliament House on Thursday, 19 March 2015 and documents the struggle of the residents. You may view a clip here.

The Millers Point Public Housing Working Party (check here and here) has been waging a valiant campaign to save some of the housing stock for the older and long term residents. The Working Party have the support of Alex Greenwich who is their local Independent MP, many in the Australian Labor Party and The Greens, but, also very importantly, Reverend Fred Nile, leader of the Christian Democratic Party and a key member of the current NSW Legislative Council.

The Working Party organised a report by SGS Economic Planning which provides an alternative way forward and submitted this to the NSW Government. They are asking, at the very least, that the workers’ flats be retained as public housing. They are also supported by the Friends of Millers Point group. Amongst its patrons are the likes of Jack Mundey, Eva Cox and Anthony Albanese. 

Inner Sydney Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service, auspiced by Redfern Legal Centre, with the support of City of Sydney, has been running a service for tenants affected by the relocation. Since the service began in May 2014, advocates have assisted over 160 tenants, providing advice about their rights, attending interviews and inspections with FACS Housing, and helping to prepare correspondence and appeals. Read more about this here.

Following the NSW State Elections on 28 March of this year, residents had some hope that things would change, because a new Minister for Social Housing, the Hon. Brad Hazzard MP, was talking to the residents. Previous Ministers had declined to take up the invitation. However, negotiations are moving very slowly and the FACS Housing Relocation Team is still going 'full steam ahead' in asking the remaining tenants to move out. In the meanwhile, Minister Hazzard is reported as saying that he supports a mix of social and affordable housing in developments of public land involving private developers. Only time will tell if he believes that this should apply in Millers Point.

The sale of properties in Millers Point and The Rocks remains an important topic of discussion in the NSW Parliament. In May of this year Alex Greenwich, Member for Sydney, submitted a series of questions to Minister Hazzard about the welfare of tenants being relocated. You can read Mr Greenwich's questions, as well as the brief responses the Minister provided, here. And on the last day of August of this year, as part of the Budget Estimates process, the Legislative Council’s Standing Committee No. 1, submitted 22 questions to Minister Hazzard.

While his answers were far from comprehensive - referring, for instance, to the soon-to-be-published 2014-15 FACS Annual Reports - he did report that 99 new housing units funded through the sale of properties are underway in suburbs outside of the City of Sydney. He also clarified that no funds from the sale of properties at Millers Point have been ploughed back into the City of Sydney local government area, or the nearby inner-western suburbs of Sydney. But, overall, the 2015 Budget Estimates process has done little to assure tenants and other interested parties that the NSW Government welcomes scrutiny over its sale of public housing in Millers Point and The Rocks.

Back to our text from Exodus 20:17. A great injustice will have been perpetuated if the remaining residents of Millers Point, many of whom are elderly, are required to leave their homes and Millers Point becomes an enclave of the wealthy. The NSW Government must pull back from enticing others to covet their neighbour's house.