16 September: They had stocked the kitchen with food, hauled in crate-loads of belongings and even brought their tortoiseshell cat.
But the two-month long rent-free bliss enjoyed by a group of squatters at Millers Point ended abruptly on Tuesday, as the state government pushed ahead with its plan to empty the harbourside suburb of vulnerable residents.
The small group of 20-somethings left the Argyle Place property about midday after being ordered out by police.
Tayce, a 27-year-old squatter who declined to give her last name, said the eviction was a “farce”. “I’m homeless – there are so many people on the waiting list for [public] housing and this house was empty for two years,” she said. “There is nothing wrong with the house, it’s beautiful. I don’t think houses should be sitting empty.” The house was connected to electricity and, despite a bit of mould, was otherwise “amazing”, Tayce said.
About four squatters had occupied the terrace house after finding the back door unlocked and the property empty. Squatters are also known to be occupying other homes in the area.
Scores of properties at Millers Point are lying idle as the government embarks on a two-year program to evict public housing tenants and sell hundreds of homes. The first four sales well exceeded price guides and netted the government $11.1 million.
The government says the homes are too expensive to maintain, and sale proceeds will be reinvested into the social housing system. However, welfare advocates question why all properties must be sold, rather than letting some elderly and long-time residents stay on in the area.
Housing groups have also called on the government to ensure the proceeds are used to build new social housing in inner Sydney areas.
Millers Point community spokesman Barney Gardner said the squatters evicted on Tuesday had not caused a nuisance, and should have been allowed to stay until the property was ready for sale.
“The property has been vacant for some time and will remain vacant for some time. These people … are not damaging the property, they are just living there,” he said.
“They haven’t had anywhere to live and now they are being turfed out on the street again.”
It is understood no charges will be laid, because the squatters left voluntarily.
Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich said the vacant properties at Millers Point “should have been used to house people in need”.
He said public housing residents had previously raised concerns about other squatters, however the government was only taking action now the sell-off had begun.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Family and Community Services said the Argyle Place home had been vacant since late 2011 “and is being prepared for sale”.
“The government has continued to carefully monitor the safety and security of vacant Millers Point properties and any illegal occupancy or squatting will continue to be subject to action by NSW Police,” she said.