Activists occupy University buildings

A protest group is reportedly set to use University-owned buildings as the location for a ‘conference’ from Thursday to Sunday this week to highlight Oxford’s growing housing crisis.

In the run up to the four day event, termed ‘House of The Commons’ and organised by a group of the same name, activists have occupied the Old Power Station in Osney. The Power Station, which is owned by the University, has, according to activists, stood empty for the last four years.

Charlie Fisher, one of the organisers at House of the Commons, told Cherwell, “It is a vast injustice to leave properties empty for longperiods of time when demand for space is so high and local families are being moved out of their homes in communities they have lived in all of their lives. The occupation of a disused building of this size draws attention to the fact that there are big landowners in this city who have the financial might to keep property at low or zero occupation”.

A University of Oxford spokesperson responded to the occupation, “The Old Power Station is not a disused building but it is used for storage for the University’s museums and has hosted art exhibitions in recent years. We are in contact with the people occupying the building and we are working with legal advisors and police with the intention that the occupiers leave the building as soon as possible.”

The University also wanted to make it clear that it has attempted to lessen the burden of Oxford’s rental market by ensuring that as many students as possible live in University- owned accommodation.

The occupation was met with mixed opinions by Oxford students. Harry Bush, a second year chemist, told Cherwell, “Students get an alright deal, but we’re so heavily helped out by the University. Residents have it tougher though. I know the Council has made significant efforts, but there doesn’t seem to be a quick fix solution”.

Sophie Terrett, a third-year undergraduate and member of the Oxford Tenants’ Union, voiced her support for the event, saying, “I’m really excitedfor the House of the Commons event and think it is definitely relevant for students; in a recent NUS survey, 50% of Oxford students said that they had experienced delays by their landlord when in need of house repairs and 20% have experienced an animal infestation in their accommodation. This is clearly unacceptable and reflects a wider problem with student housing in Oxford and beyond. It’s great to see events like these raising the profile of housing activists!”

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Oxford has a long history of housing and cost of living related issues. A study conducted last year by Lloyds Bank found that Oxford was the least affordable city to live in in the United Kingdom, with property costing, on average, over 11 times average local earnings. The news was greeted with  dismay by local residents at the time, with the Leader of Oxford City Council adding, “People have to live outside the city, unless they can afford extremely high rental and house prices. They’re effectively being forced out and this leads to a fragmented community, because young people and those with families have to move around the county.”