A group of residents in a little Richmond complex have become the unwilling faces of the affordable housing crisis.
Norman Court Retirement Village on March Street has 14 units, with 12 occupants. It’s common knowledge that the complex was to be bulldozed at some point to extend the nursing home, but they figured they’d have at least six months’ notice when the time came.
Then on Monday last week they received a notice to vacate from Ray White Windsor, giving them 90 days.
The residents are mostly elderly, mostly single and none have a plan B due to lack of capital. One resident has almost no English, and the oldest is 83.
Richmond Club has had plans for the site for 12 years. It has a licence for 43 high-care beds for nursing home residents, eight of which will be palliative care beds. If it doesn’t build the extension soon it will lose the licence.
Club CEO Kimberley Talbot said they were already three years past the deadline for delivering the beds in the licence. She said as a result Norman Court will have to be demolished “this side of Christmas”.
The Gazette contacted Wentworth Community Housing, Dominic Perrottet’s office, Macquarie MP Susan Templeman, owners Richmond Club, and Council about the residents’ plight.
Many conversations were had last week between these parties and the latest is that the Mayor, Mary Lyons-Buckett, Councillor Danielle Wheeler and Richmond Club CEO Kimberley Talbot have agreed to meet together as soon as possible to nut out options, and Wentworth Community Housing said it will meet with each individual resident to assess their circumstances and get on the job.
Ms Talbot also met with residents last Friday and interviewed the four who were willing as to their circumstances so she could pass details on to Mr Perrottet’s office, which had offered to find out what if any help was available.
She has also offered to pay moving costs for the four (if it’s within western Sydney) if they pack everything up ready to go. “In the end I can only do so much,” she said. She also offered one of the four a room in a house at Vineyard with one other man but he declined.
Ms Talbot has made many attempts to find alternative digs for the tenants over the last couple of years. In April last year she and Hawkesbury MP Dominic Perrottet met with then Social Housing Minister Brad Hazzard to ask for the allocation of Crown land behind Richmond Golf Club for affordable housing. She told Mr Hazzard she could afford to build 14 prefab units, but couldn’t afford land as well.
“He wasn’t interested,” she said. The club also bid on the Legacy building on East Market Street in March with the aim of converting it to a seven-bedroom boarding house. Ms Talbot said they were prepared to go to $1 million but it went for $1.3m.
“If we could find an interested property owner with a very large house or old hotel that could be made into a boarding house or hostel we would be interested in co-ordinating the services and upkeep,” she told the Gazette last week. “For over 10 years we’ve been begging for more social housing in the Hawkesbury.”
Macquarie MP Susan Templeman said there were challenges in providing affordable housing as there was community resistance to it.
“As a community we have to support councils in trying to provide affordable housing provided it meets standards, and we need the state government to step up and provide financial support,” she said.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who have hit hard times and very few expected to end up there. There are two groups who are particularly at risk of homelessness – older women retiring with not enough super and young people coming out of foster care. We need investors who want to invest in affordable housing.”
Wentworth Community Housing’s divisional manager of community services, Jenny Ranft, said part of the problem in the Hawkesbury is that most of the available housing is three bedroom houses on a suburban block. “There aren’t the affordable rentals for people to access,” she said. “Our Heading Home program recognises we can’t just be looking at private rentals.”
All dressed up, no place to go
NORMAN Court’s residents haven’t moved, despite knowing their units had an axe hanging over them, as they had no options.
May (who did not give her surname) said on Tuesday last week “we can’t afford to move – our hands are tied – we’ve got to come up with two weeks rent, and four weeks rent for bond”.
“We haven’t got that – and we have to keep paying the rent here. I’ve been in Richmond for 27 years and I don’t want to leave it. All my family is within half an hour of here.”
The residents are all on pensions and have been paying low rent, between $130 and $200, for which their landlord Richmond Club receives no subsidy. Rents on the open market in Richmond and Windsor start at $290, something Trevor Vigar knows.
“A pensioner can’t afford to pay more than $250 a week rent – and that’s half your pension,” he said.
Norma (who didn’t give her surname) agreed. “Agents won’t let you rent if they know you’re on the pension as they say you would be living above your means.”
When Colleen Scanlon, 83, asked the agents what rentals they had available, she was told ‘you can’t afford what we’ve got on our books’.
Graeme Bradford said he’d been on Wentworth Housing’s social housing list for five years already.