Tower residents’ 4 hours to pack up lives
Residents of Sydney's Mascot Towers have been given a brief window today to enter the troubled buildings and pack up what they can of their lives, after cracking and structural deterioration caused an emergency evacuation nine days ago.
Residents have continued living in limbo, after a team of engineers delivered an inconclusive report at an emergency strata meeting on Thursday.
The most recent assessment of the dangerous carpark area by the building's engineers concluded the risk had "changed status from red (unacceptable risk) to orange (managed risk)".
The change has allowed residents in the most dangerous area of the building, who had previously been denied entry, to have four hours to grab what they could. They arrived at the building with boxes and suitcases this morning, many hoping to exit the building and not return.
A tenant told news.com.au they were aware of the Opal Tower residents' predicament, where people have not been inside their apartments for over six months.
As residents entered the building this morning, a unit owner told news.com.au they were made to sign a waiver promising not to take photos inside the building, and some were made to hand over their phones.
She said some tenants were keen to grab items of furniture such as cots, as they were nervous about the cost of moving on with little to no belongings in the event the building remained shuttered long term.
"It's frustrating. We're still in shock. We're stressed," resident Edwina told news.com.au as she waited with boxes outside the apartment block.
"I only had 20 minutes to pack before (firefighters) rapped on the door and said, 'You have to go.'
"When I first read the evacuation email I thought, this is a scam. They sent the first email at 7.45 (at night) and the evacuation alarm is not working in the building."
Residents were sent an evacuation notice via email, with an attached PDF that advised them to get out of the building.
Edwina said she wasted precious minutes calling building management to try to verify if the evacuation notice was real, and in the end left with only her passport and a few T-shirts.
Being turfed out has been difficult for her to cope with.
"I'm here on my own in Sydney," she said.
Her job requires her to travel and has stopped her from being able to "respond quickly" to the changeable situation.
She said she had two friends who lived in the tower who were in the same situation.
She was shocked after the evacuation to see herself on TV.
"I first saw this happen to people in the Opal Tower. And now it's me," she said.
Edwina has yet to receive any help from the promised state government funding package, saying residents would have to go through a "means test".
Beams in the building continue to degrade, and leaking in the basement has continued, according to an update email sent to the residents, obtained by news.com.au.
"The beams in the southern area of the basement continue to show signs of increased cracking and is being monitored," the email update said.
"The groundwater is still seeping within the basement and the composition has changed."
Pain has continued for the apartment owners, who have become the victims of online trolling, and have felt pressured to avoid sharing their story with media.
One apartment owner said she felt the strata company had bombarded owners with information and "manipulated" them into voting before follow-up questions were answered.
"We weren't given enough time, we were forced," the owner, who wanted to remain anonymous, told news.com.au on Friday.
She said the Department of Fair Trading hadn't advocated for the owners properly, and claimed owners were fearful of speaking out as there were teams of lawyers at the meeting.
"We don't know what the lawyers are doing," she claimed.
She also expressed her anguish at the owners being trolled online, after a Gofundme page was launched to raise funds for levy fees of $1.1 million.
The assessors have advised the concerned residents that the results were inconclusive and it would be at least a month before they could re-enter, but they would ultimately need more time to assess the extent of the building's degradation.
An engineering summary released on Thursday revealed the most troubled areas in the Mascot Towers complex was beginning to stabilise, although engineers would need another week "at the minimum to provide findings that have more substance".
And while engineers deemed it safe for residents to have short, escorted visits through the previously shut-off areas of the building today, residents have been warned it will be at least another month before residents can reoccupy, if the building is deemed safe after a million dollars worth of emergency remedial works.
RESIDENTS GIVEN $400-A-NIGHT HANDOUT
The NSW Government has announced a maximum $400-a-night support package for Mascot Towers residents.
Minister for Better Regulation Kevin Anderson confirmed today that residents whose homes were unsafe to access would receive funding to pay for temporary accommodation.
"The residents of the Mascot Towers are facing exceptional circumstances with a long wait to understand what has caused this problem," Mr Anderson said in a statement today.
"That's why the Government is providing residents and owners some certainty by helping them meet the cost of emergency accommodation until liability can be determined and these costs recovered.
"Whilst residents wait for advice from specialist engineers on the root cause of the problem, we are taking decisive action to ensure all residents of the complex, both homeowners and tenants, are not left out in the cold.
"I hope that this package will also help ease some of the stress that has no doubt been felt by the strata manager and volunteer strata committee, who have worked tirelessly to support residents in these exceptional circumstances."
Residents will be able to access the following assistance, subject to costs incurred:
• One-bedroom unit: $220 per night
• Two-bedroom unit: $300 per night
• Three-bedroom unit: $400 per night.
The funding will be given as a no-interest loan to the Mascot Towers Owners Corporation. Residents can apply by calling 133 220. More information is available at the Fair Trading website.
The special one-off support package is expected to cost the state about $3 million.
There is still no conclusive evidence as to the cause of the instability.
Ms Berejiklian had previously come under fire from residents after she declined to attend the highly publicised strata meeting on Thursday.
"I think for a matter of this size, it's so important that she be there," Mr Higgins said at the meeting on Thursday.
"There was no representation of Gladys and the Premier didn't attend, which was quite disappointing."
But Ms Berejiklian defended her decision.
"It's not a job of a premier to attend every single strata meeting," Ms Berejiklian said.
"The job of a premier is to make sure that all parties are held accountable."