There is a crisis in student housing. The cost of rent is skyrocketing across the country, and students are being forced to pay through the nose for cramped, unsanitary housing. The University of Queensland is using this crisis as an excuse to jack up the prices of their on-campus student accommodations. UQ RES at St Lucia is increasing by 20% to $360 a week, and accommodation at the Gatton Campus is going up by 40% to $350 a week.
Since the opening of UQ RES last year, there has been a number of scandals about the conditions for the 610 students housed. Students report rarely having hot water, filthy shared kitchens, and cramped, faulty single-bed dorms. The shared laundries cost $20 per load, and students locked out of their rooms find themselves paying $30 just to get back inside.
This outrageous increase follows a financial year during which UQ made $8 million off of their property investments, and $341 million in raw profits overall. UQ can afford to pay its Vice Chancellor Deborah Terry $1.2 million per year, as well as providing her with a free five bedroom house that she doesn’t even live in. UQ is not raising rent out of necessity, it is an incredibly rich institution with literal billions in the bank. They are simply trying to make a profit at the expense of students, who are already struggling through a housing crisis. UQ could easily transform their vast network of apartments and share houses into affordable student living, all it would take is a small hit to their already mountainous profits.
Rents have increased by 15% on average across Brisbane in the last year, and are set to worsen throughout 2023. In fact, this is the longest consecutive period of rental price growth Australia has ever seen. The results of this profit-driven madness are everywhere across the country: rental inspections with dozens of hopefuls competing over shit-box housing, being forced to ‘bid’ higher rents in order to escape the rat race, and greedy landlords upping rents by hundreds of dollars at a time.
Australian rental listings in 2022 were 48% lower than the previous five-year average. In Brisbane, less than 1% of rental listings are vacant at any given time, meaning working class people are having to fight over fewer and fewer homes. But this statistic isn’t the whole story; there are more than 87,000 unlisted vacant dwellings in Queensland alone. The rental crisis is not being driven by uncontrollable market forces, but by the profiteering of private landlords and corporate greed.
The Queensland Labor government is responding to the ongoing crisis by investing $2 billion to create 5,600 affordable homes by 2027. This joke of a policy falls far short of the 102,000 additional homes needed right now, a number that will only grow in the next five years. Federal Labor has offered nothing better. The government has promised ‘1,000,000 new homes over five years’ , a statistic which comes with the caveat that only 30,000 of that number will be affordable and social housing, funded through a model of subsidising private businesses. And the real clincher is that property developers already build roughly that number of homes in five years anyway. A report from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute indicated that it would actually be 24% cheaper for Labor to simply build the housing publicly, rather than subsidisng private companies.
If they built the homes themselves, it would cost $30 billion to ameliorate the housing crisis in Queensland. This figure pales in comparison to the amount of money the federal government will pay on its nuclear submarine deal alone. The submarines will cost $10 billion each, which is enough to build 33,000 public homes per sub. This is the kind of pro-business policy we have come to expect from the Labor party. Instead of instituting things like rent caps, and preventing investors’ properties from sitting empty, the government is throwing billions of public money into the hands of developers to keep doing what they’re already doing. Not only would it be incredibly easy for Labor to build the necessary homes, that housing already exists and is left empty in private hands.
Clearly the government – state and federal – couldn’t care less about the plight of ordinary people, leaving them at the mercy of greedy landlords and corporate universities. Our only way out of the housing crisis is a fight. Nine years ago, a mass student campaign defeated the Abbott government’s federal bill to deregulate university fees, which would have tripled course costs and saddled students with exorbitant debts. Through months of protest and disruption on the campuses, supporting that bill became a political death sentence. Abbott and his allies were regularly run off universities, such as when Julie Bishop was chased out of USyd and UTS in the same day! It’s only through similar campaigns now that we have any hope of challenging the universities and government, and forcing them into providing affordable housing for all.
If this pisses you off, come to the UQ student protest: Demand UQ act on student housing crisis! WEDNESDAY, MARCH 1 AT 12 PM