Students take action on housing crisis

August 23, 2008

On August 20, activists from the Student Housing Action Collective (SHAC) at Melbourne University occupied four terrace houses in Faraday St, Carlton. The houses are owned by Melbourne University and were used as student counselling offices until 2005.

As a result of shrinking student services, the houses have been abandoned for two years. SHAC is demanding that the houses be renovated and set up as affordable student housing.

According to an August 21 article in the Melbourne Age newspaper, student welfare officer Allegra Reinalda "said the houses should be used for student accommodation as they could sleep 25, and up to 40 if renovated".

According to Melbourne City Mission over 23,000 people are homeless on any night in Victoria; almost half of these are less than 24 years old.

According to a SHAC media release: "Glyn Davis, Melbourne University's Vice-Chancellor acknowledged a few weeks ago that even at this elite university there are up to 440 students who are homeless and even more suffering from severe housing stress."

For university students, finding affordable housing is increasingly difficult, with real estate prices skyrocketing. Within the inner-city region of Melbourne, the rental vacancy rate dropped to 0.3%.

The affordable rental vacancy rate is only a fraction of that. Median rents have risen by 17% annually since 2002, with no signs of slowing.

In 2007, the United Nations Human Rights Council reported a serious housing crisis in Australia. As interest rates go through the roof, more people are forced to rent.

Massive rent costs, on top of the rising cost of food, transport and education, lead to increasing impoverishment for many young people. This can lead to them living with parents into their 20s, sleeping on friends' couches or under bridges.

Centrelink does not consider people independent until they turn 25, unless they have earned $18,000 over 18 months. This is not easy when you are 18 and studying.

International students are particularly vulnerable to unscrupulous landlords as they are often unaware of tenancy regulations and landlord obligations. As a result, they are being squeezed into overcrowded housing or charged enormous sums for a ridiculously small space.

Real estate agents and landlords are usually prejudiced against young people, which that makes finding a new home very difficult. A 2007 Shelter Australia study found that 17% of people using homelessness services are Indigenous, the result of racial discrimination in housing.

Despite millions of dollars being spent on the NT intervention, no new housing has been built in remote Indigenous communities.

The Shelter Australia study found that in almost 1.2 million households, residents have to spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs, with over 400,000 spending more than 50% of their income on housing.

By contrast, in Cuba housing is seen as a human right, and it is illegal for tenants to be charged more than 10% of their income in rent.

The housing crisis cannot be solved by a system that puts private profit before people's welfare. In order to solve this crisis, Resistance believes we need a large-scale building program to make good quality, environmentally sustainable, affordable public housing.

The SHAC activists are in negotiations with the university, but are determined to continue the occupation of the buildings until steps are taken to address the student housing crisis.

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