Monday, 5 May 2008

Squatters out as bulldozers start engines

The last days … squatters Amy Rush, her daughter, Lundja, with Martin Gozdz and Jon Wah in Iceland, their now former home.

FOR the residents of Iceland, a five-year-old Balmain squat with waterfront views, a vacant building is a house waiting to become a home.

"Unused buildings not being occupied are such a waste," said one of the squatters, Jon Wah, 28. "Derelict buildings attract derelict people but if they are occupied, they become a home. The people look after the property."

By today, Iceland - one of Sydney's longest-running squats - will be a soulless, empty building again as residents vacate on the order of Leichhardt Council, which will bulldoze the Weston Street office block to make way for a park.

It will be the end of an era, those in Sydney's squatter scene say.

"It will be sad to see this place go," said Amy Rush, who has lived in Iceland on and off since 2003 and named the house after her favourite holiday destination.

"About 20 people have lived here over the years and it's been a place for band rehearsals, art projects, people practising dance routines, bike workshops. Squatting gives you a chance to think about things other than how you are going to pay the rent and ways to contribute to the world."

Ms Rush moved into the squat shortly after it was abandoned by its former users, a tugboat company that used it as an office.

"It was pretty easy just to walk in and start using it. The owners had just had a party so there were balloons and champagne glasses and glitter. It was magical to walk into this deserted party scene," she said.

In February last year council officers recommended Iceland's residents be evicted after noise complaints from neighbours but the council voted to allow them to stay until work began on the park.

A leading housing academic has called on the City of Sydney, Leichhardt, Marrickville and Waverley councils to charge higher rates on vacant properties to encourage the owners to let squatters live in empty houses.

The director of the I.B. Fell Housing Research Centre at the University of Sydney, and the leader of a training program for squatters, Col James, said: "Rubbish gets left on a vacant property if it's not occupied.

"There are 120,000 vacant properties in the Sydney metropolitan area and at the same time there is a growing demand for housing."

The Mayor of Waverley, Ingrid Strewe, said she supported squatting. "We are certainly not vehemently opposed to it. If a property is empty, someone should be living in it," she said.

"I know we have empty properties in our area and if there could be some way of making owners think twice about leaving them empty that would be great."


Open hearts for the youngest on the streets
Of the 100,000 people whom the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates are homeless each night, about 36,000 are thought to be under the age of 25 and 10,000 under 12. Every night, one in two young people who seeks support accommodation will be turned away.

Housing crisis is real: industry
The Housing Industry Association (HIA) says new research highlights the seriousness of Australia's housing crisis.

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