Culture //

Uprooted in Chippendale

Tom Joyner is looking for a new place to live.

Image: thinkpanama, via Flickr.
Image: thinkpanama, via Flickr.
Image: thinkpanama, via Flickr.

This morning I awoke to find an enormous billboard that read “For Sale”, hastily strung overnight to my neighbour’s fence, advertising the sale of eight terraced houses on my street – including my own.

My guts churning, I hastily called the number listed. Brett from Colliers International answered the phone with the bored tone of someone simultaneously browsing Facebook. “Your residence will be open for inspection this week, please make it presentable for potential buyers.”

Real-estate agents say the darndest things. There is a tenth circle of hell reserved for this special class of person, alongside used-car salespeople and telemarketers.

“I’m still here you know.”

Coming from outside of Sydney to study at university, the options for a place to live are limited. Students must rely on earning money around their study in order to pay for a lifestyle that is far from stable if they are unable to qualify for scholarships or government assistance.

This cohort, squashed awkwardly between the haves and the have-nots of the student population, are underrepresented on campus. Aside from a smattering of societies aimed at fostering interfaculty friendship, we lack a strong student community and student leadership, any recognition by the university for financial support, or any sort of support base in Sydney to fall back on, should the proverbial shit hit the fan.

“You’re going to have to move out soon,” Brett said quickly, “but I’ll let you know when”.

I sat on the edge of my bed feeling defeated, and slowly began to go over my options. For the last three years, my living situation in Sydney has been a series of temporary hidey-holes. Share houses have been punctuated by hostel dorms and friends’ couches, sometimes as far away as Wollongong.

For a period in my second year I lived in a halfway house of sorts, where, with unnerving predictability, I was greeted every morning by the muffled banging and rasping breath of the elderly man down the hall enthusiastically masturbating in the bathroom opposite. Too disgusted to even brush my teeth, I hastily adapted my showering timetable accordingly.

While off-campus housing in Darlington and Forest Lodge offers students from out of town an independent experience without the social and financial costs of college, it remains limited. Sydney University offers the unique inconvenience of being situated in the heart of the city’s trendiest pocket of real estate. Access to housing in the inner-west is hard fought for by students who simply can’t compete with the latte-sipping, dual-income, no-kids regiment of Sydney’s middle-class.

For every ad on Gumtree that offers a “bright sun-lit room” with “cool twenty-something housemates”, there are fifty-something other frustrated students, whose flood of ingratiating emails are written with the same plucky chutzpah of a summer internship application.

Having never been able to qualify for a housing lease, this month marks 12 months since moving into my current digs without eviction, rent hike, or rat infestation. For others for whom the move to Sydney without support is daunting enough, the challenge of accessible, affordable and secure housing is ongoing.

(PS. I’m still looking for a place if anyone has a spare room.)