Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 1. 28 February 1972
Accommodation: — —The Outsiders—
Although there are not enough rooms to go around at the beginning of every academic year, people become apathetic as each finds his own niche and forgets the problem for another year.
There being no immediate answer to overcrowding in Wellington, it is up to students to agitate for a longer term solution.
By now it should be clear to even the most wishful of politician that Wellington is suffering from an acute housing shortage. It takes only a little common sense to appreciate why. Into a limited geographical space, Wellington can cram only so many activities In recent years, expansion of the Government Centre, the Polytechnic, the University, and the hospital, not to mention commercial building along the Terrace, have all taken their toll of nearby houses. As if this were not enough, the City Council seems intent on tightening the suicide rope by requesting the foothills motorway. The most wanton destruction of houses has occured as this foolish and questionably necessary project has crashed through Thorndon and along Shell Gully. In planning for a more 'economic' city, the Council is creating an even deader heart of asphalt, parking buildings, office space and warehouses, while the human life is pushed out to dormitory suburbs like Johnsonville.
Maybe some future historian will curse the motorway as the beginning of the death of Wellington. In the meantime, as more and more Houses are demolished end not replaced more people are coming to the city to live. Each year thousands of transferred civil servants, polytechnic, university and nursing students descend on Central Wellington. Every year, except during the mild recession of 1968 the cry has been for accommodation. Every year during January and February the problem is highlighted, and gradually forgotten as people filter their way into substandard and over priced places.
Accommodation most certainly isn't only a student problem. Elderly people, who have about the same income, but less flexibility ere in a worse position. Young families, unable to pay the extortionate rents for houses are forced to take suburban boxes out at Wainuiomata or Porirua.
The noticeable feature of the 'student problem' is that it comes every year in January and February as the academic year begins and hundreds of out of town students rush for increasingly limited number of houses in the city and Kelburn areas. From almost every aspect, the siting of the University at Kelburn has been a disaster. On the harbour side a growing commercial area and now, a rapacious motorway have all but eliminated suitable houses. Around the Kelburn hills there is competition from young workers who Nam to live close to their city offices. There is no cheap flat land for development of student flats or hostels, and the prices for old houses, like rents have been inflated but of proportion to value.
That much is obvious. Because of its absurd site end because of city wide problems Victoria has the worst accommodation problems of any university. As university enrollments increase and no more than piecemeal measures are taken, the problem can only worsen.
All Indications are that 1972 is the leanest year on record. That is hardly surprising, given increasing student numbers and an almost total lack of improvement in the number of beds. The University itself is a major contributor to the problem. Already the floor space of the houses in Kelburn that are used as 9 to 5 studies is equal to that in the Easterfield building. As the building programme falls even further behind, even more houses will have to be bought and converted to studies. Kelburn Parade is now almost entirely offices, and the University's options extend further than that. The Sociology department has been banished to five houses in Clermont Tce, the other side of Weir House, and smaller departments like University Extension are over the top of Kelburn Parade and into Fairlie Tce.
The position of houses that are earmarked for future use is a curious one. The government, through the Education department, buys the required houses, and holds them on behalf of the University. In the meantime, they are left to the Public Trust to administer. Houses in this state of limbo include about five in Fairlie Tce, three in Landcross St. some in Adams Tce, and about a dozen in Holloway Rd.; the latter projected for playing fields sometime in the future. One might expect that the University would recommend that students occupy these unused houses, but the position is not so simple. (In fact the situation looks like an undue complication for the sake of buck-passing) The Public Trust will let the properties to whoever is first in line, and almost by coincidence several are let to students. No 54 Adams Tce is let through the Accommodation Service. Most of the Holloway Rd. houses, which are in fairly poor condition, are let to elderly people, who have lived there previously. Over I all, the only houses not actually occupied, are several up a dirt track leading off Holloway Rd. that are virtually self demolishing. Even if these had been habitable, the Education Department's policy is to spend as little money as possible in renovation, and these would remain as unused as No. 57 Fairlie Tee did last year. This year. Dr. Culliford has stated that the house is quite definitely to be converted to make studies for the Institute of Geophysics.
So a check of the houses owned by the Crown on behalf of the University reveals no prospects for extra bedspace. As the University population grows nearer to that absurd figure of 10,000 the problem of making student accommodation compatible with staff studies will magnify. Perhaps we should all hope for yet more concrete and glass monstrosities like the Earth Science and Easterfield buildings to tie the hungry staff to the immediate University sits.
One can't help cursing the short-sighted founders of Victoria who allowed themselves to be bribed by the Cable Car developers into settling on the tiny windswept Kelburn site.
It seems that every year is a crisis for accommodation at Victoria. But the saddening thing is that people become content with their overprice, unsatisfactory room and are too apathetic to care about the future. Each year is just one worse than the last. If it is human dramatisation you want, then go down to the Evening Post building as the first edition comes on sale. Or go the rounds of the land agents yourself and be met by vacant stares and pitying looks.
Some figures from Wellington's largest letting agency. Key's, gives an indication of the size of the shortage. Among the 700 flats that they have on their books, about fifty are let to students. Over the last holidays, forty of these were retained, at considerable extra cost in rent, as a safeguard for the new year. (A bit rough on those arriving in Wellington for the first time) The other ten were already relet before the 15th of January, incidentally before the University Accommodation Service reopened. During January, Key's let in all about 20 flats to students. During the first two weeks of February there were only three. Flats and houses are almost unobtainable anywhere, for anyone, let alone for students and in the sought after Kelburn-city area.
The University Accommodation Service can back this up. It has been completely unable to meet the demand for the flatting type of accommodation. And the service's statistics cannot take into account the growing number of students who are not even bothering to register because of the poor prospects.
The traditional press statements that passively bewail the shortage of 200, 300, or 600 beds is in this situation inadequate. What is needed is a concerted drive towards building or buying flats and houses. Equally useless is Mr. Boyd's call for a rent ombudsman. Certainly rents have rocketed, probably by 20 or 30% but it is the sheer physical lack of houses that is the problem. A gratuitous gesture like a rent ombudsman into a situation where the seller is so strong, would be almost laughable.
Mere moaning in February and March will not miraculously build houses although publicity is admittedly important.
Some temporary measures will lessen the severity of this year's shortage. After much negotiation with the Ministry of Works, the Student's Association has secured the use of the empty Bowen Street hospital. Efforts have also been made to gain use of a property in Vivian Street, which is doomed if the motorway ever reaches that far. These are quite obviously only temporary measures. Perhaps the people of Wellington will be moved by the reports of the student plight to take in those who might otherwise be sleeping on floors. But the existing problem is barely touched.
What is important is that the University be seen to be acting. Mr R.L. Pollock of Keys offered a suggestion as to where it could look first. His idea was that the Student's Association could become a letting agent, in order to secure more houses for students. Apparently some landlords still shy clear of students for fear they will be noisy, dirty and vandalistic. (when everyone should know that students are really apathetic and conformist.) If the student body(?) were to guarantee rent and reasonable order for the property, Mr Pollock argues that they would change their minds. The Student Letting Office as with down—town agents would charge commission of one weeks rent, and also be a safe conduct bond. There would certainly be risks from damages, but also nonpayment of rent during the holidays. But presumably, the same laws of the jungle would apply as now, and that any student who didn't pay during the holidays would lose his option. There would be considerable administration in handling rents, but this should surely come within the field of the Accommodation Service.
At present, students have no advantages whatever over anyone else in renting properties. The advertisements are placed in the papers by the Accommodation Service have a wishful air about them. This scheme might be something positive to alter that situation.
But paying out rents to existing landlords, even through a central student office, would not help as would buying properties. One land agent, with his eyes on increasing selling commission, advertised a place in Devon St. as an investment for four students each with $250. The house, one in quite good order, although in a damp gully, was selling for $10,000 (Government valuation $6,500). After the $1,000 deposit there were two mortgages, one at [unclear: 3%] and the second at 9%. The weekly payment in mortgage interest would be only $4 per person, a very low rent, even if paid for the whole year. Other [unclear: actors] such as $67.00 in rates, and the prospect of maintenance might make this less attractive, but the weekly payments would be going towards [unclear: n] appreciating asset.
For four students to go it alone would be quite a risk. Not too many would have the deposit to start with, and very [unclear: ew] groups of students are likely to stay together for several years in the same place.
This scheme could work if it were a cooperative student effort in which the student's association bought houses and rented them to individuals. The Student Executive has, in fact come close to doing just that on several occasions, the closest with the block of houses between Salamanca Rd. and Mount St. Each time unfavourable reports of the buildings caused the Executive to have cold feet.
For over a year now there have been plans for a Student's Accommodation Trust at a national level. But it seems this will be further procrastinated, because of the differing needs and finances of the individual Universities. The South Island Universities, with the least accommodation worries are not likely to be over anxious to invest in Victoria's problems. The idea of a national Trust seems a little premature It should be made to work at a local level first. A few houses bought and in operating order are much better publicity than all the impassioned talk at N.Z.U.S.A. meetings. Victoria has a special set of circumstances that make it the worst housed University. It even has a limited amount of finance for the project. The Trust deeds are being drafted. The big problem is to prevent this from becoming just another paper ideal.
Halls of Residence
Meanwhile, the only group that has gone as far as raising finance in the cause of accommodation, is working on, meeting each month in increasingly depressing circumstances. Many students probably aren't even aware that there is such a thing as a 'Halls of Residence Appeal Foundation'. In the six years since it started, Halls of Residence have ceased to be a sought-after form of accommodation, and the appeal is unlikely to generate enthusiasm. The Appeal started in 1965 when a number of small Church appeals decided to pool resources. So far it has been able to loan money to help extend Victoria House and rebuild Helen Lowry Hall in Karori, but Its major projects show few signs of materializing.
The Anglican Trinity College' has been almost priced out of feasibility. It could, if ever made a reality, certainly be a big contribution to the University. Its size for one thing (eleven storeys) could hardly be ignored. In design it is thankfully a lot more imaginative than the concrete morgue that is the new wing of Weir House. As planned at present the first stage would be an eleven storey round tower with Kitchen and dining room attached.
On its site at Clermont Tce it would command a magnificent view, but the height could also be disadvantageous. As the University becomes larger and more monolithic, the need may be far more personalized home surroundings. The Halls of Residence Appeal is in an unenviable position. The money it has raised, something in the order of 430,000 dollars is steadily being eroded by inflation, and the donors have not seen any marked results. The government has all along been reluctant to grant a subsidy, and now it seems that the University Grants Committee has seized on the trend towards flats for students as an excuse to drag its feet.
That particular excuse is ridiculous. As Victoria grows towards a population of 10,000 the demand for all types of accommodation will increase Already there are about twice as many people wanting to get into Weir House than there are places. There will probably always be a demand for hostel accommodation from first year students and that special breed that thrives on the monotony of hostel life. Victoria's accommodation problems are enough to depress anyone. There are no forseeable solutions, although hopefully the size of the shortage will be a political embarassment big enough to force action from Wellington's M.P's in this election year. Otherwise, perhaps the best we can look for is that the Halls of Residence Foundation keeps plodding along, and finally uses its funds in a less ambitious project like Everton Hall; or that the Student Accommodation Trust is actually formed and makes that difficult first move of buying and letting its first house.