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‘Tear down this rotten system’: Activists rally to fix the housing crisis

Some of rally’s key demands were for the state and federal governments to implement a rent freeze, build more public housing, and end for-profit student accommodation.

Photography by Ting-Jen Kuo.

Hundreds of activists gathered outside Sydney Town Hall on Saturday to demand that state and federal governments take action against Australia’s worst housing crisis in generations.

Organised by the National Union of Students’ (NUS) “Get a Room” campaign and NSW Greens, the rally was also backed by Action for Public Housing, Hands Off Glebe, NSW Young Labor Left, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).

The rally was chaired by UNSW SRC Education Officer Cherish Kuehlmann, who was arrested earlier this year for protesting at the Reserve Bank of Australia earlier this year.

“Basic security for people, their homes, are being taken away overnight. So we’re taking to the streets today ahead of the state budget in NSW, to put the NSW Minns Labor Government on notice,” Kuehlmann said.

“Genuinely invest in action to fix the housing crisis, or face further protests from the community.”

The rally’s key demands were for the state and federal governments to implement a rent freeze, build more public housing, raise rent assistance, tax property developers, strengthen renter’s rights, end for-profit student accommodation and implement a corporate super-profits tax.

Carolyn Ienna, a Wiradjuri activist from Action for Public Housing and Hands Off Glebe, spoke to the Minns Labor Government’s demolition of public housing, with reference to the impending demolition of the public housing estate at 82 Wentworth Park Road, Glebe. 

“We’ve had three deaths since it was announced that 82 Wentworth Park Road was going to be demolished. It’s a perfectly good building. It stood there for 35 years. It has no major cracks. It shouldn’t be demolished. At the end of the day, public housing should be available to anyone,” Ienna said. 

Mehreen Faruqi, NSW Senator and Deputy Leader of the Greens, criticised the lack of action taken by governments both state and federal — both Liberal and Labor.

“The housing system in this country is cooked, because government after government has prioritised the interests of big developers, of big investors, and of the banks over and above the community, and over and above the people they purport to represent,” Faruqi said.

Xavier Dupé, the NUS Education Officer, praised the rally’s turnout, saying that people “need to keep taking to the streets and standing up to the rich and powerful.”  

“When housing is a commodity to be bought and sold on the market, it gets bought up by investors, it gets bought up by banks, and ordinary people who are trying to buy or rent just to survive are left at the mercy of these people who are only interested in their own profits,” Dupé said. 

Bailey Riley, the President of the NUS, spoke on how the housing crisis has affected students and First Nations peoples, arguing that “in any part of housing action, we must be prioritising Indigenous justice and welfare and commit to increasing public housing for everyone, including Indigenous people.” 

“Student accommodation is filled with massively inflated prices and terrible conditions. Companies like UniLodge, Scape and Iglu — yes, scum — create horrendous working conditions for students to live in,” Riley said.

Jack Toohey, a content creator and housing advocate, criticised the ongoing closure of public housing, saying that successive governments “keep closing them even though the crisis is getting worse. I’m angry. We’re angry. And we should be angry.”

Martin Barker, a tenants rights advocate, framed the housing crisis in the context of wider cost of living issues, saying that while people are “being told to get a second or third job, that it’s too much to expect to live in an affordable home, it’s a different story for the top end of town.”

“We need to take away the landlord’s profits. We need to take away their empty homes… we’re not going to stop until we tear down this rotten system and build the one that we deserve, and have homes for people and not for profit,” Barker said. 

Jenny Leong, NSW Greens housing spokesperson and member for Newtown, was the final speaker. She attacked the Albanese Labor government, saying that “this year alone, the federal government will pay $39 billion in tax concessions to property developers.”

“How many billions are they giving to renters to subsidise their rental costs? It’s not 39 fucking billion, I can tell you that,” Leong said.

The rally then took the streets and marched through the CBD to chants of “We’ve got a housing fix: tax, tax, tax the rich”. It remains to be seen whether governments will get the message.