Keith Tremain, 81, talks with his daughter Sharon Bate in his serviced apartment at Glenaeon Retirement Village run by Lendlease in Belrose. Photo: Kate Geraghty Keith Tremain with his late wife and daughter Sharon Bate in front of the family’s Forestville home in the mid 1980s. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Keith Tremain always believed that when times got tough, you could count on your mates.
After suffering two strokes, a heart attack, and the loss of his wife, the 81-year-old is now bracing for a battle with construction giant Lendlease, which wants to demolish the entire wing of the Sydney retirement village he lives in, because it isn’t profitable enough.
If it goes ahead, Keith and 50 other retirees face being split up, as they come under pressure to leave their homes.
So Keith decided to call on an old mate – Tony Abbott, the former prime minister.
“Keith is a terrific bloke. Our community owes him a lot and I am only too happy to speak up in his support,” Mr Abbott said.
“He is a tough supporter of his day, he is a very accomplished tradesman – one of those people whose word is his bond.”
Keith and the former prime minister share an obscure but deep connection – they are both honorary patrons of local rugby club the Forestville Ferrets.
The pair worked together to build the club gym – Keith as a bricklayer, and Mr Abbott as the local member lobbying for government funds.
Keith, who can utter only a few simple words due to his stroke, lives in a unit at the Glenaeon Retirement Village in Belrose on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
More than 280 people live in the village with 34 of the most vulnerable residents living in serviced apartments alongside Keith.
Lendlease, which yesterday reported a full-year profit of $698 million, want Keith and around 50 other residents to leave their homes and build in their place more than 100 more-profitable retirement-living units and an aged-care facility.
Keith moved into his new apartment after the sudden death of his wife and his second stroke in 2014. He paid Lendlease $200,000 for the apartment on a 99-year lease.
To move ahead with its proposal Lendlease needs 75 per cent of residents to support its plans in a vote and agreement from residents on leases.
No date for the vote has been set, but that hasn’t stopped the company from having one-on-one meetings with residents, to encourage them to leave.
The company is even throwing in incentives to sweeten the deal offering to pay $4000 in moving costs, $2000 in legal fees, while waiving “selling fees” and “re-establishment fees” worth around $12,000.
Keith and his neighbours fear Lendlease will whittle down the resident population with these deals until the remaining few feel like they’ve got no choice but to take a deal.
The former prime minister is watching the situation with interest.
“Obviously Lendlease are entitled to propose an upgrade but they do need to treat the residents with respect and negotiate with them in good faith and they need to make sure the residents get a good deal. That means as little as possible disruption and better accommodation than they have now,” he said.
The issue has divided the centre. Many of the residents directly affected say they feel cheated and pressured to leave. Others feel the plans would bring much-needed new facilities and add value to their homes.
Lendlease first told them of its intentions at a meeting in June, indicating serviced-apartment residents would have 12 months to find alternative accommodation.
At more recent meetings it backtracked and reiterated that no one would forcibly evicted.
It has also offered to resettle residents inside the centre. But residents say the plans have created “total terror” inside the serviced apartment block.
Lendlease has also told residents not to go to the expense of contacting lawyers.
About 120 residents met on Monday at the Glenaeon community centre, in the heart of the village, to hear from Lendlease managers Greg Little and Ann Holzer about the plans.
They were told the 30-year-old serviced apartments had become a liability, losing $300,000 in the last year alone.
“We are not a hotel. That’s not our business to run a hotel … we are about providing a retirement environment that has to have a commercial outcome both for Lendlease and the resident,” Ms Holzer told the meeting.
Even if Lendlease does not get the 75 per cent it needs, it says it will close down the serviced apartments eventually anyway, including Keith’s.
Surveyors have already been hired and Lendlease is speaking to aged-care providers to operate the yet-to-be approved centre.
Lendlease has also offered to buy back units at a market price determined by an independent assessor. But some residents are digging in their heels.
Keith’s daughter Sharon Bate has joined the battle and says her father will refuse to leave. She says the plans have had a devastating impact on morale at the centre.
“I can’t believe that they can do that to all of those people. One man is 99 years old. These people are living out the end of their lives. They’ve spoken about suicide as a result of all of this,” she said.
Prices for serviced apartments at Glenaeon vary from between $200,000 to $300,000. Residents also have to pay a monthly service fee of around $2000 as well as an exit fee – typically around 3 per cent for each year of residence – when they sell their unit.
During the sometimes heated meeting on Monday, some residents vowed not to leave.
“You said that no person in serviced apartments will be forced to leave their home. That means I can stay in my home until the day that I die and you can’t do anything about it …That’s fine. I plan to live another eight years,” one resident told the meeting to rousing applause.
The meeting was also shown a concept sketch of the new proposal which included three-storey apartment buildings connected to an aged-care centre, where the serviced apartments now stand.
Former construction manager Stan Fields, 91, has been living in the centre for 14 years. He believes Lendlease is strategically drip feeding information until they reach the 75 per cent support needed to pass their plans.
“They will work away at us and work away at us, until more and more people say ‘well I suppose it is not so bad’,” he said.
“There is this feeling that this is going to happen whether we want it to or not.”
The meeting was told Lendlease operates 17 villages with serviced apartments across the country with many suffering ongoing problems with vacancies.
Michael Eggington, Managing Director of Lendlease’s Retirement Living business said Glenaeon was an ageing village that was not meeting the requirements of village residents who may need higher levels of care.
He said no resident will be forcibly evicted.
“The proposal will only progress if agreement is reached with directly affected residents and a favourable resident vote is achieved,” he said.
“Lendlease understands this is a sensitive time for some residents and their families. Residents who require additional support have access to elected Resident Committee representatives as well as services provided by Lendlease, such as independent legal advice.”
Tony Abbott said he’s concerned about the stress for residents forced to go through the move late in life.
“Particularly for old people, it is always stressful when you are asked to consider something that might involve upheaval in your life. And losing your accommodation, even if it is going to be replaced by something better, is very troubling,” he said.
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