Wednesday, August 20, 2008

STUDENTS SEIZE VACANT BUILDING TO PROTEST HOUSING CRISIS AT MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY


According to the Student Housing Action Collective (SHAC), studies done at Melbourne University have shown that as many as 1000 students there could be classified as homeless. Many more are eligible for public housing.

With this in mind a group of students affiliated with SHAC have taken over a university building in protest of the continuing crisis. The property was previously used to house Melbourne University’s counseling service but has been vacant since 2005. All the students are asking is for the university to turn the abandoned property into a low cost housing co-operative. To this end, the students are going to University Council, the highest decision making body, with a concrete proposal for a viable co-op.

Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

SHAC has been campaigning on the issue for months but the University of Melbourne has done nothing to resolve the situation although even University officials admit there is a serious problem.

The vice-chancellor of Melbourne University, Glyn Davis, says 440 students are in effect homeless, "hot-bedding" with relatives or friends because they could not afford their own residence.

Pro Vice-Chancellor at Melbourne University Professor Sue Elliott says it is very difficult for some students and emergency accommodation at the university is always full.

"We used to be able to have students in there for just a period of about two weeks while we found them further, more permanent accommodation," Professor Elliott said.

"But we're having a lot of trouble moving those students into accommodation because the rental costs are so high and the vacancy rate so low."

Students who are not on the streets aren't doing so hot either.

Maddie and Michael both study psychology and science at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

To help save on rent, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports, they have squeezed into one small bedroom in a four room share house in Sydney's inner-west.

"We have five people in a four bedroom house. The rent for the house is about $550," Maddie says.

"My room is about 2.5 - three metres for two people which gets filled up very quickly with desk, beds et cetera.

"One of our flatmates also pays $130 and she lives in a room that's about 1.8 by 2.1metres."

"And all she can fit in is really a desk, a single bed and just her clothes. And she's on Centrelink (Australia's welfare agency) but, and she has to work cash-in-hand to be able to afford to pay the rent and pay the bills."

Michael also receives Centrelink payments as well as earning cash-in-hand because he says living in Sydney is too expensive to survive on just Centrelink.

"The disadvantage of Centrelink is the cap is too low for students, the work, how much you can earn per week," Michael says.

"So it forces students into cash-in-hand jobs where they don't get the rights and protection they really need."

Michael guesses that some 80 per cent of the people in his course still live at home, with some spending two hours a day travelling to and from the university.

His girlfriend Maddie says they were lucky to find affordable accommodation so close to the city.

"Yes, it was really lucky that we got it and the previous tenants hadn't moved out and the real estate agent was desperate. And it was in really bad shape," she said.

"There were cockroaches all through the kitchen and there was an infestation problem and stains and holes and everything."

International students have been hit particularly hard. According to SHAC there is a complete dearth of affordable housing offered by the university to international students. International students receive no information about the crisis before coming to the university and so are unaware of what they will face.

Currently the student squatters have turned the space which they are occupying into a vibrant community hub with a bike workshop, gardening activities, theatre rehearsal space and art gallery.

The following is from the Melbourne (Australia) Herald Sun.

Students barricade vacant uni building calling for low-cost housing

STUDENTS have barricaded a Melbourne University-owned property demanding an end to the student housing crisis.

About 25 members from the Student Housing Action Collective have taken over a property in Faraday St Carlton that has been left vacant since 2005.

The group wants the university to turn the property into a low-cost student housing co-operative.

SHAC spokeswoman Anja Kanngieser said a recent study showed 440 Melbourne University students were effectively homeless, relying on the kindness of friends or others to get a bed at night.

"The problem is there's just not really enough rental properties and rental prices are skyrocketing," she said.

"A lot of students are low income earners and many receive welfare and it's very hard to get affordable rental properties when you're on Centrelink."

She said the crisis was affecting both local and international students and put added pressure on students trying to study and support themselves.

Ms Kanngieser said the group welcomed Melbourne University's future plans for student accommodation but said action needed to be taken now to help struggling students.

"We're in negotiations with the university, but we'll be here as long as it takes for something to happen."

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