MELBOURNE University’s acting vice-chancellor Professor Peter McPhee says student squatters occupying its buildings have cost the university “many thousands of dollars” which could have been better spent on student rent subsidies.
Earlier this year, the university won the fight to evict the 20 student squatters who moved into the university-owned Faraday St terrace homes in Carlton last August and formed the Student Housing Action Co-operative (SHAC).
Victoria Police had no choice but to forcibly remove the students in an early-morning operation on January 14 after they ignored the Supreme Court’s January 8 eviction deadline.
With nowhere to go, the students camped on the footpath in protest.
Professor McPhee said the students’ actions were “completely unacceptable” and a poor reflection to the wider community.
“This is university property and it’s not for any group of staff, or students, or anybody else, to say ‘oh whoopee we found a vacant building, this is where we’re going to live’.
“Even if your motives are well-intentioned, that is actually not a very good message.
“It would send a message that if you see something that you like, and it belongs to someone else that isn’t using it, that you can take it,” he said.
He said the university was not opposed to student co-operatives and had offered the squatters rental accommodation, large enough for the group, at a subsidised cost.
But SHAC spokesman James Field rejected the offer and said it was merely a band-aid solution.
“It wasn’t really an offer; it was more of an ultimatum.
“It was going to source funds from existing housing funds, so it doesn’t actually significantly change the amount of support the University gives to students in need – it just changes where that money goes to,” Mr Field said.
He said there were between 200 and 400 homeless students at the University of Melbourne, according to a Melbourne University survey conducted in July last year.
“The University had no plans for those buildings, they were empty buildings for three and a half years, uninhabitable in the midst of a rental crisis.”
He said the groups’ intentions were not to simply dwell in the properties, but to “make a concrete response to an ongoing crisis”.
“Accommodation are issues that international students, local students, undergraduates, postgraduates, people at University, people at TAFE, everybody faces.
“Rental prices are really high, and students’ incomes can’t meet this, so people like this end up on Faraday St.
“People need to be able to meet their need to housing, need to be able to have their student rights to shelter, be respected and recognised,” he said.
The Faraday terraces are expected to become a new information hub for Melbourne University students.