Angry residents are refusing to leave their harbourside homes after the O’Farrell government’s decision to sell nearly 300 public houses in the heart of Sydney’s historic Rocks precinct.
They gathered in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge following the announcement the properties, many of them heritage listed, would be sold off and more than 400 residents turfed out.
“We are not moving one iota,” said Colin Tooher, whose family have lived at the same Millers Point address for six generations.
“Think about it, (NSW Premier) Barry (O’Farrell), and think about it bloody hard.”
Patricia Haub, 77, insist she isn’t moving either.
“They can take me out in a box,” Ms Haub said.
“Why should I move?”
The decision is set to bag the NSW government hundreds of millions of dollars.
Community Services Minister Pru Goward said the cost of maintaining heritage properties and rent subsidies in the area had become too high.
She pointed out that the subsidised rent for a public home in Millers Point was about $300 a month, while the market rent for a similar property was around $4000.
In one case, a man lives alone in a four-bedroom house.
“I cannot look taxpayers in NSW in the eye, I cannot look other public housing tenants in the eye and I cannot look the 57,000 people on the waiting list in the eye when we preside over such an unfair distribution of subsidies,” Ms Goward said.
The previous Labor government sold off some houses in Millers Point in 2009 for an average price of $1.3 million, Ms Goward said.
“I’m hopeful that in a better market we might achieve higher prices than that,” she said.
Ms Goward insists the money from the sale would be ploughed back into the public housing system across NSW.
But the critics were lining up for a swing at the NSW government, with some saying the decision was influenced by the neighbouring billion-dollar Barangaroo development.
“The government bent over backwards to give a billionaire (James Packer) a casino and then right next door is turfing out 400 vulnerable people,” Sydney Independent MP Alex Greenwich said.
Opposition community services spokeswoman Linda Burney said the plan was about getting residents out of the area to “gentrify” it.
Barry Gardner, who is 65 and who has lived in the same street his entire life, said the government’s decision to announce the plan to the media before telling residents was “cowardly” and “un-Australian”.
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore believed the sell-off was influenced by the development at Barangaroo, which includes Mr Packer’s high rollers casino.
“I think the announcement that has been made by the minister is shocking and I think the manner in which she is carrying it out is cruel,” Ms Moore said.
Forty NSW Housing officers sent letters and went door to door on Wednesday morning informing locals of the relocation plans, which is expected to run over two years.