When you’re living and studying in the world’s third most unaffordable city, Centrelink and a casual cafe job aren’t going to get you too far. With a two-bedroom Newtown terrace house weighing in at a cool $600 per week, and on-campus accommodation totalling over $17,000 per year, it’s not unusual for USyd students to have to go halfway to the Blue Mountains before rent becomes remotely affordable.
Enter STUCCO: one of only two student cooperative housing facilities in the country. Nestled in Newtown’s leafy backstreets, the converted glass factory is home to 39 full-time USYD students, who collectively organise and run the day-to-day operations of the small community. In exchange for subsidised rent, residents are expected to dedicate at least five hours each week to the co-op’s upkeep, be it in building work, finances, membership, or admin. But the hardwork pays off – STUCCO is also a thriving artists’ community, host to many art shows
and live bands over the years.
STUCCO opened its doors in February 1991. The brainchild of USyd sustainable living and architecture lecturer, Col James, the project was driven by post-grad architecture student Donald Proctor, and a dedicated group of USyd undergraduates. With funding from the NSW Government and the University, the students were able to realise what had once seemed a mere pipe dream: affordable, sustainable living in the heart of Sydney.
Hundreds of students have been a part of STUCCO in its 22 years. As well as being responsible for the upkeep of the building, the residents are also a social community. There have been many stories that have been passed through the generations of STUCCO, some are true, and some are probably folklore. Unit 3 was famed for its bout of wild orgies in the 90s, and legend has it that Unit 4’s old interview process involved sharing a huge j. More recently, tales have emerged of the ‘Naked Doco Club’ and naked breakfasts, and certain members advocating a (consensual) ‘no pants dance party?!’ at every occasion. There’s also the residents-only parties that get to the point where all interested parties are making out with each other and no one can remember how it started. With all this in mind, ‘cooperative living’ really seems to take on a new definition at STUCCO. After falling for the STUCCO community and lifestyle on a temporary visit, Stephanie Clark’s determination to become a full-time “STUCCwit” saw her go through five applications and interviews before she finally got a place at the beginning of 2012.
The third-year Science student says she loves Stucco’s welcoming nature; as a queer-identifying resident, she has been particularly grateful for its tolerance and inclusivity. “It’s really queer and trans-friendly. There’s absolutely no discrimination tolerated,” she says.
Clark says that many of her friends at STUCCO wouldn’t have had the opportunity to come to Sydney University if it weren’t for the cooperative. “There are people from Queensland, Adelaide, rural NSW, so many different places. But the one thing they all have in common is that, because of the incredibly high costs of living in Sydney, they wouldn’t have been able to afford to come study at USyd without Stucco.”
And with the NSW Government’s recent announcement of funding cuts to the affordable housing development sector, the sad reality is that more and more students will find themselves unable to afford to live and study in Sydney.
One may see STUCCO as a type of weird, inner-city utopia, with its pot luck dinners, moonlight cinemas, rooftop sleepovers, and even underground tunnel exploring and glow-worm hunting, but as far as affordable and sustainable housing goes, STUCCO will continue to stand as a testament to the fact that it isn’t an unrealistic or utopian vision. A little cooperation can go a long way.