Cooks Hill residents fear homelessness as developers hone in

Residents Matt Dougherty and Rodney Bowen were joined by State MP Tim Crackanthorp on Tuesday in a desperate bid to have their fears of homelessness heard. Photo: Rebecca Riddle

He’s taken many knocks in his 52 years, some Rodney Bowen admits, he probably deserved.

But when he received a notice to vacate under the door of his Cook’s Hill residence last month, he decided to take action.

Mr Bowen lives in a boarding house on Parkway Avenue in Cooks Hill.

The shared accommodation offers discounted rent to 40 adult residents, many of whom have life experience with domestic violence, homelessness, and disabilities.

On Monday 7 June he was served a notice of termination of lease agreement by Streets Property Management.

The notice advised tenants the building was to be redeveloped by its owners, the Aspen Group.

The news, Mr Bowen said, was devastating.

“Legally it’s okay, but ethically and morally it’s definitely not,” he said.

“As you are acutely aware of the housing affordability and shortage in the Hunter and Lake Macquarie areas, finding affordable long-term accommodation for 40 persons in thirty days is almost an inconceivable and laughable (if it wasn’t so serious) idea.

“Many of our residents have past and present history with life’s curveballs, many on disability benefits, old-age pension, some on recovery journeys such as myself, some intellectually or cognitively challenged. 

“We live here as most of us can not afford higher rent than that which we already pay. 

“Many of our vulnerable residents have past experiences with homelessness and sleeping rough. An impersonal letter, slipped under their doors with no consultation, has caused many triggers, not to mention we will be homeless or at risk of homelessness right in the middle of winter.”

Mr Bowen has a diploma in community services and is currently studying an undergraduate degree in community services and counseling with Torrens University.

“I’m a full-time student so my benefits are limited, and because I’m an older person I have previous life financial commitments which take $150 straight off the top of my fortnightly payments,” he said.

“I already supplement my food income through some of the not-for-profits, which I, in turn, volunteer for.

“I’ve been here for two years but a lot of the residents have been here for what feels like forever.

“Even if I find something I’ve got to come up with the bond. Yes, I’ll get my bond back from the real estate but I have to pay that one before I get this one back. How do I find that money?”

Given 30 days to vacate your home is grossly unfair Mr Bowen says. 

“Had I been told back in January that something was happening, maybe I could have been putting $10 or $20 away every week and had that now when I needed it.

“There’ve been claims the developers have been in consultation with us all along – that’s just spin.

“There’s also allegedly a map with plans for development right here in the building according to Aspen, it’s been in here since January – well, nobody here has seen it.”

On Tuesday, in a bid to have their stories heard and hope for a smoother transition to new housing, Mr Bowen invited an array of social services to the address, as well as State MP Tim Crakanthorp.

“It’s absolutely desperate times in the housing market at the moment,” Mr Crakanthorp said.

“We’ve got JobKeeper ending, we’ve got a lot of people moving up from Sydney with big, deep pockets willing to pay six or 12 months rent in advance, and we’ve got 100 people lining up for every rental at the moment.

“These people wouldn’t be at the top of the list, that’s for sure, many aren’t employed.

“They’re being kicked out.”

Mr Crakanthorp said poor investment in housing was to blame. 

“This government needs to look to Victoria which is setting the gold standard,” he said.

“They’re investing $5 billion in social housing.

“This government, over the last ten years, has decreased the number of social housing units.

“They’re very happy to sell off a lot of properties near the water for millions of dollars, they’ve been doing it in Stockton and Light Street, but they’re not rebuilding and that’s the major issue.”