Chloe Roberts and Sean Cheung
On the 9th May, The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) led workers and student activists in a march from Parliament House to the Reserve Bank building on St. George’s Terrace. They were protesting the most recent interest rate hike and the rising cost of living.
Perth, along with the rest of Australia, is in the midst of a rental and housing crisis. According to REIWA we currently have a 0.85% vacancy rate, much lower than the 3% rate expected in a balanced market.
This lack of housing has a disproportionate effect on students. The University is aware of this and has launched an accommodation concierge service and even asked alumni to consider hosting homeless international students, but it is not enough.
Domestic students are unable to leave home and experience the independence associated with starting university. The lack of housing availability and increased rental prices mean moving out is no longer an option, and those who try to are at the bottom of the list because of a lack of rental history to prove they will be a good tenant.
International students rarely have the roots in the community to rely on which domestic students do, and are being left with little option but to pay extortionate rates for subpar accommodation. Rent for purpose-built student accommodation increased by 8% last year; student accommodation has always been of a higher cost than private rentals and now landlords are capitalising on a lack of availability, making short term accommodation available where students share rooms with students and other members of the public for a high price.
In the private market, non-domestic students are unable to apply before arriving in WA due to mandatory in-person viewings; payslips in foreign currencies are misunderstood by realtors and, again, with a lack of rental history, the most vulnerable students are being left at the bottom of the list.
Mature-age students are struggling to find suitable accommodation that meets their unique needs. Those with children and/or career responsibilities are unable to find accommodation with enough rooms at an affordable price. Some mature-age students are also suffering with a lack of rental history, due to past properties being leased in the names of ex-partners’ or housemates’.
It is appalling the way international students are being treated as ‘cash cows’ by the University and the State Government. International students’ tuition is twice the amount of domestic students’, and on top of this they face price-gouging by student accommodation providers and landlords in the private market.
The root of this issue lies in the commodification of housing; the roofs over our heads are treated as commodities to be bought and sold for profit instead of a human right. While many wealthy homeowners have the luxury of multiple houses—holiday homes in Cottesloe and Mosman Park, people are being left homeless in the streets; students are crashing on couches for weeks and months, unable to find affordable rentals.
There is much that can be done by UWA and the State Government to help alleviate students’ financial burden. More financial aid could be given to international students and rent at the residential colleges and other UWA-owned properties should be reduced. The State Government should impose price-caps on rentals across the state to make housing more affordable.
These policies and measures are desperately needed by many Australians facing ever-rising costs and stagnant real wages. Living standards are decreasing, but governments have continued to tighten public expenditure, and welfare remains inadequate. The government will not pay their fair share or impose higher taxes on the rich unless they are forced to. For real action in this Cost of Living crisis, we have to be fighting for it, now.
Following the example of activists over East, students at UWA are running their own campaign for affordable housing, follow the campaign and get involved through the UWA Education Action Network: https://www.facebook.com/UWAEAN?mibextid=ZbWKwL.
And join the protest on campus at 1.00p.m. 19th May outside Reid Library to demand action on the student rental crisis: https://www.facebook.com/events/899259334711219.