Almost 300 public housing properties on Sydney's harbourfront will be sold, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the O'Farrell government and forcing out residents who have lived there for decades.
NSW Community Services Minister Pru Goward said proceeds from the sale of the historic properties at Millers Point, The Rocks and Gloucester Street would be reinvested into the social housing system.
The sale includes the landmark Sirius building at The Rocks, a concrete brutalist high-rise apartment complex close to the Harbour Bridge, containing 79 units.
It also includes historic terraces at Millers Point, where residents had long feared the government wanted to gentrify the area to support the nearby Barangaroo development.
Ms Goward said the sale had "nothing to do with" Barangaroo and that maintenance on the Millers Point properties cost four times the average for public housing in NSW.
"In the last two years alone, nearly $7 million has been spent maintaining this small number of properties," she said.
"That money could have been better spent on building more social housing, or investing in the maintenance of public housing properties across the state."
Asked whether the government planned to sell other high-value public housing, Ms Goward said, "This is the only one we have looked at in this detail. We want to get this sale right".
She said the government recognised some residents had lived at Millers Point for decades and specialist teams would help relocate them.
The sell-off project will be led by former public service commissioner Lynelle Briggs and is expected to take two years.
Some Millers Point housing was sold under the previous government five years ago.
Ms Goward said each property averaged a sale price of $1.3 million then and said, "I'm hopeful that in a better market we might achieve higher prices than that."
Department of Family and Community Services Secretary Michael Coutts-Trotter said the homes to be sold were in a "very, very expensive area of Sydney".
"There is massive demand for residential housing in this area; it is going to free up a very large amount of money for reinvestment in social housing," he said.
The sales will be handled by Government Property NSW.
Mr Coutts-Trotter said it would be a "competitive process" and properties would not be sold below reserve.
The member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, and lord mayor Clover Moore, held a joint press conference at Millers Point to express their "outrage" at the decision.
"As we speak, there are people going from door-to-door, in Millers Point, telling people that they're going to have to leave their homes," Cr Moore said.
Cr Moore said the decision was a sign the state government wanted to make money from the area, describing the move as "Barangaroo-driven".
"Sirius apartment block was built in the 1980s, and it is no more needed to be sold for high-income housing than any of the other apartment blocks in metropolitan Sydney where people in public housing homes live," she said.
"All public housing tenants in inner city properties are now put on notice that if the value of your home goes up, the government is going to put you out of your home."
Mr Greenwich said the government had "broken their promise" to consult the community and release a social impact statement prior to any decision being made.
"Millers Point is one of the oldest and strongest communities in Sydney, and we can't underestimate the health and mental costs, and impact on residents of today's cruel announcement," he said.
Public housing advocates have criticised the lack of accountability around the sell-off of "irreplaceable" public housing long occupied by a community in Sydney's historic heart.
Chris Martin from the Tenants' Union of NSW said the use of proceeds from previous sales in the area had not been accounted for.
"On its record to date, no one can be assured that all proceeds of a sell-off will be 'reinvested' in social housing," Dr Martin said.
Shelter NSW's executive officer Mary Perkins said the government's announcement contained little detail about how the money would be used to address the long waiting lists for housing.
"We've had a long-time issue with the transparency around the promises that have been made about the sale of stock. They say 'we'll sell this to gain this', but there's never been any evidence produced about the gains," she said.
"At the end of the day, we've got a really big concern about the geographic divide happening in the city, between these areas [that] are for rich people and these areas [that] are for poor people."
- with Leesha McKenny
The story Sydney waterfront public housing properties to be sold off first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.