Published in Honi Soit, p. 6, Week 12 Semester 2 Edition, 24 October 2012.
Ada Lee reports from the front line
Last Wednesday October 17, around 100 campaigners marched from outside the Carslaw building to Sydney University Village (SUV), demanding affordable student housing. Accompanied by police, protestors carried ‘SHAME ON $UV’ banners, chanting “It’s not inflation, that’s a lie. The rent is too damn high!”
They demanded that SUV maintain current rent levels, provides greater transparency from administration, and that the University take over the Abercrombie Street housing project from a private company.
After the rally, campaigners sat on the lawns at SUV and discussed future actions. Undergraduate Fellow of Senate Patrick Massarani told protesters that to increase rent by 22 per cent over two years when inflation is at two per cent was “extortionate”.*
“It is unconscionable and we won’t stand for it,” he said.
Figures for September 2011 show an average rent increase of 11.6 per cent in Newtown, compared to SUV’s 2011 increase of 12.8 per cent. Sydney University Village’s General Manager Ron De Haan explained an independent market review indicated SUV was undercharging compared to the market. This year’s rental increases reflect management “catching up,” he said.
According to Mr De Haan, annual rents at SUV are set in consultation with the University as a minor financial co-owner. He believes the university’s presence on the management board has a positive impact in keeping increases lower than a totally privately operated facility.
But protesters are not satisfied. SRC Student Housing Officer, Eleanor Morley, told the crowd: “SUV proved what a disaster it is if the Uni sells to a private company.”
SRC Welfare Officer Rafi Alam told fellow campaigners their efforts must also be directed at the government, encouraging it to provide students with affordable housing.
Around campus, Mr De Haan points to a lack of beds driving the housing market. “If new facilities open up in the bracket of affordable housing,” he said, “people will gravitate towards the new beds whilst more expensive facilities will suffer.”
Not everyone is happy with the prospect of more university-provided housing. Residents’ concerns about the Abercrombie St Housing Project led the University into negotiations with community groups such as REDwatch (covering Redfern, Everleigh, Darlington, and Waterloo).
A spokesman for REDwatch, Geoff Turnbull, believes the negotiations haven’t been successful. Miscommunication had left residents with cold feet, he said. “Many residents feel manipulated rather than respected,” he told the South Sydney Herald. “The uni needs to revisit its approach if it really wants good neighbourly relations, not continued demonisation.”
Co-convener of the campus Greens and Student Housing Action Collective protestor Mr Wallin says something needs to be done about the situation. “University housing needs to go somewhere. The inner-west of Sydney is highly dense. There aren’t many free spaces. There is a way to strike a balance between [residents and students]… it certainly motivates us to do it better, to take into account their needs and rightly so.”
For a previous story on the $UV movement, click here.