arch-peace news and articles

22.9.08

The Student Housing Action Co-operative and the transformation of the Melbournian landscape


Many would think that in a rich country such as Australia housing affordability would not be a problem. However, under the rule of the housing market and ‘market’ education, the reality is rather different.

The following is an article written for Architects for Peace by a group of homeless students (SHAC) from the University of Melbourne who decided to occupy some vacant property owned by the university. Arch-peace is considering assisting SHAC with some pro bono services.

"The private market is inaccessible, especially for non-local students (by which we mean international students, students from interstate, students not from the city – in short, all students who need to find a home near university but have no local support networks or communities, no knowledge of whether the amounts asked of them are reasonable or not and – often – no 'references'). The private market also dictates prices without reference to the incomes of students."

The Student Housing Action Co-operative and the transformation of the Melbournian landscape
By 3P and K.F. Asseraf

Given the current housing crisis, we were staggered by the absurdity of four empty and functional interconnected terraces which sat metres from the main campus of the University of Melbourne. They have been left empty by the University for the past three years (ever since the University counselling service was relocated to Cardigan St).

As usual, absurdity compelled us to take action!

On the evening of Tuesday 19th August twenty of us moved into the space. We informed the university and proceeded to create a home. We are still living here.

We are a collection of students and activists who share the desire to intervene directly into the housing crisis which affects us. We call ourselves SHAC. Before we moved in this stood for 'Student Housing Action Collective.' Now we are the 'Student Housing Action Cooperative.'


As spelled out in our submission to the University of Melbourne we propose that the premises be used as a student-run housing co-operative. Our further ambitions for the property involve strongly encouraging the establishment of further student housing co-ops; sites whose central concern are community, self-management, accessibility and affordability.

As students we have taken up the crisis in student housing, but our project has a wider focus. We imagine the proliferation of co-ops all over melbourne, a radical transformation of the urban landscape; a multiplication of affordable social housing within which the users of the property collectively run and manage their home.

We have received the solidarity of our friends who share this ambition and of the local and student communities who are inspired by it.

The current situation
Affordability and acessibility are not guaranteed by the market. A casual glance at housing ads in any student union is more suggestive than any set of statistics. And a consideration of the current student housing options shows that community and self-management are also distant.

The private market is inaccessible, especially for non-local students (by which we mean international students, students from interstate, students not from the city – in short, all students who need to find a home near university but have no local support networks or communities, no knowledge of whether the amounts asked of them are reasonable or not and – often – no 'references'). The private market also dictates prices without reference to the incomes of students.

Large scale corporate housing projects are not much better. These projects exploit international students by charging above and beyond the already ridiculous 'market rates' (we need to overturn the ridiculous notion that all 'international students are rich' – in order to afford such accomodation,many are driven to illegal and exploitative casualised labour). Further, these buildings canexacerbate the sense of isolation often experienced by international students, especially upon their arrival in Melbourne. Finally, residential colleges are only acessible to those students from very privileged backgrounds. The culture of these colleges is infantilising and often oppressive to those who dont fit in. The possibility of self management is not even a consideration in these colleges.

None of these options provides an opportunity for us to achieve our goals: community, selfmanagement, accessibility and affordability.

Why the co-op model?
Homelessness, in particular student homelessness, cannot be considered in isolation from the broader fabric of our society. In fact, homelessness itself is a form of isolation from a broader community, and from the support networks that flow from it. Isolation creates and reinforces housing vulnerability, housing vulnerability creates and reinforces isolation. The co-operative model and the community reachout/creation strategy it employs thus represent possible elements of a long term plan for the real reduction of housing vulnerability, isolation and, of course, homelessness.


We are already putting this into practice. We have made a conscious effort to open up the space to the local community - we are open for visits and tours every day of the week from 12 to 6 and we host regular community dinners, film screenings, skillshares and forums. We welcome everyone to attend our meetings and join the campaign. Additional to this, we have opened up the space for other groups to use for their own campaigns and events.

We have also made an effort to create a functional and supportive community inside SHAC.Residents decide collectively upon the kind of behaviour that is acceptable in the space, with the responsibility of mediating specific interpersonal issues delegated to an open and rotating grievance collective. We have also collectively composed a safer spaces policy which articulates our expectations of each other and of visitors to the space.


This sense of community is best facilitated by self-management. Control over one's own home creates a sense of investment in the space, in its nooks and crannies, in its rhythms, in its life. By working together, we come to know and trust each other, thereby building a strong and supportive community.

Self-management is also a more affordable option! By not paying security guards, site managers, caretakers, cleaners, cooks, etc, we spend much less money. Instead of paying other people to run SHAC, we've learnt how to do it ourselves. We've all had the opportunity to learn a broad range of skills, from making pumpkin soup to fixing windows to writing press releases; how better to facilitate the empowerment of young or marginalised people?

The accessability of social housing along these lines allows for the convergence of affordability, community and self-management. In order to make this happen, we're putting our money where our mouths are – but through more than consumer lifestyle choices!

It is only by taking this direct action, and by receiving support and solidarity, that it is possible to create something better for Melbourne and its inhabitants.

If you wish to become involved in our campaign, please email us at shachouse@gmail.com or visit our blog at shacmelbourne.blogspot.com.

2 comments:

arch-peace said...

Architects for Peace is now calling for pro bono services to assist SHAC. Find more: http://archpeace-probono.blogspot.com/2008/09/shac-housing-co-operative.html

sallreen said...

Play With Your Food was a free dinner held every Monday at the University of Melbourne. The SHAC Proposal is going to the University of Melbourne University Council late this afternoon so come along to the Community Dinner tonight to show your support whilst we await the outcome and have a plate of tasty food, hear some live music and make some new friends.
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Sally
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