Public housing residents in Sydney are campaigning against evictions from the Sirius apartments as the state government moves to sell the building.
The Millers Point community has been struggling for years against what UNSW professor and director of the City Futures Research Centre Bill Randolph has called “state-imposed social apartheid”. All public housing in the area is being reclassified and sold to the highest bidder.
The Sirius building, which sits next to the Harbour Bridge, has a history that sets it apart from other apartments in central Sydney. It was built to provide housing for low-income people in central Sydney, combining apartments suited for families alongside apartments designed for those with disabilities or the elderly. Its common room was built so that the residents had a space in which to meet and talk with their neighbours.
Fifty of the building’s 67 apartments are now empty, and the common room has been taken over by the department of housing, blocking access to the courtyard beyond. Instead of finding a place to relax, residents now confront what they have dubbed the “housing lotto”. Housing officials sit behind tables in the common room, brochures in hand, and the Sirius residents are made to bid on the properties they are to be relocated to.
One of the remaining residents is 87-year-old Myra Demetriou. She is blind, but can get around because she knows the area, having lived here since 1959. She faces the prospect of being moved to a suburb far away from the health services she uses in the city. Myra recently spoke out against the sale of Sirius at a forum held at the NSW Parliament building. Her 10th floor window is adorned with lights spelling SOS – Save our Sirius.
Another resident is Owen McAloon. His seventh floor apartment is known to many Sydneysiders as the home of the prominent “One way – Jesus” sign, which is visible from the Harbour Bridge. For the last few months, a new sign has appeared in Owen’s window: “Hands off Millers Point.”
The origins of the Sirius building lie in the “People’s plan for the Rocks”, a proposal to provide affordable housing in central Sydney. In what must seem like bitter irony for the residents of Sirius, the apartments were built to prevent ordinary people being forced from the inner city.
In the 1970s residents were facing off against developers who were eager to push the working class out of the area to make way for lucrative high-rise developments. They gained support from the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF). The BLF had become well known for its green bans, which prohibited work on construction projects that its members or the community opposed on environmental or social grounds.
One outcome of the struggle was the preservation of many of the historic buildings in the Rocks. Another was the Sirius building.
Today Sirius and Millers Point residents are faced with a similar struggle. Their efforts will help shape the future of Sydney. Is the city going to have room for workers, the marginalised and the oppressed, or simply be a playground for the rich?
For more information on the campaign to save public housing at Millers Point, visit millerspointcommunity.com.au
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