Myra Demetriou, the last resident in Sydney’s Sirius building, is preparing to leave the social housing complex, paving the way for its $100 million (Dh367 million) sale by the New South Wales government to developers.
Demetriou, legally blind and immobile, became an unlikely activist and the public face of the fight to save the Sirius complex.
The building — a striking and well-known example of brutalist architecture on Sydney’s harbour — is one of several inner-city social housing properties being sold by the state government.
The sales are designed to fund cheaper and more accommodation elsewhere, in the hope of easing the state’s huge waiting list for public housing.
It has variously been described as “heartless”, a form of aggressive social cleansing, and short-sighted.
Demetriou held out with unerring defiance. The state government first told the building’s 400 residents in 2014 that they would need to leave. The decision prompted a fight that has lasted four years and included a controversial decision not to place the building on the state heritage register in July 2016.
The building slowly emptied, leaving Demetriou as its sole remaining occupant.
“Someone told me that in other states, in social housing, once you’re over 65 they can’t move you out,” she told the Guardian last year. “Not here.”
On Saturday morning, Demetriou was farewelled at a morning tea attended by deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek and Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore.
Demetriou was described as “the glue that held her community together”.
Plibersek condemned the NSW government’s “heartless” decision to move residents, saying it would transform Sydney into a more homogenous, less diverse place.
“Myra is the sort of person that makes a suburb turn into a community,” she told the crowd on Saturday.
Guests paid tribute to Demetriou’s tenacity and generosity, and said she was always willing to help neighbours.
Moore lashed out at the state government’s “ideologically-driven” decision on the building.
“Sirius will continue to be a symbol of the state government’s shocking inaction on providing affordable housing,” she said.
“From every point of view — social, environmental, heritage and community — what is happening here is wrong.”
Sydney MP Alex Greenwich vowed that the campaign to save the building would continue beyond the next state election in 2019.
“What it represents is too important to Sydney to ever let go of this campaign,” he said.
Greenwich also revealed that Demetriou would become the 2018 Sydney electorate woman of the year.
“It is women like Myra that make the city so great and so strong,” he said.
The building was put on the market for about $100 million in December and the Save Our Sirius group has vowed to keep fighting to save it.
It has also registered an interest to buy it from the state government.