An activists’ conference designed to tackle the housing crisis in Oxford continued over the weekend following eviction from a University-owned building in Osney. It eventually had to move to Cowley Road Methodist Church.
The three day conference, termed ‘House of the Commons’, described itself as an forum for “examining the current context and drivers of the crisis with the aim to explore creative solutions to these problems”.
Campaigners, who initially occupied The Old Power Station, were evicted on Wednesday. The University said, “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. The people occupying left the building left peacefully and we consider the matter closed.”
However, reactions to the eviction were mixed from students and the wider community, with some students criticising the move.
Xavier Cohen, a member of the Oxford Activist Network, said, “Whilst the eviction is within the law, we need to question what the law is doing here. It’s facilitating the prioritisation of private property rights over allocating housing and space to those who actually need it and will make use of it.”
The Oxford Green Party also added its voice to the controversy. Ruthi Brandt, Councillor for Carfax Ward, remarked, “We feel that the University has really let down the wider community and has squandered an opportunity to join the housing debate.”
She continued, “The Old Power Station, a beautiful big building in such a central location, has no business being practically empty and out of bounds to the public. I hope that the recent squat by the House of the Commons will remind the heads of the University that the place has stood empty long enough, and it is time to consider how it can benefit the community.”
However, a University spokesperson told Cherwell that it “intends that all its buildings will be used and we are constantly re-viewing the status of our properties. A major priority of the University is to provide accommodation for as many of our students as possible in order to ease the burden on Oxford’s rental market.”
Despite the eviction, events went on as planned as the activists relocated to Cowley Road Methodist Church. The programme of events included talks and workshops on homelessness, fuel poverty and alternative housing models.
One participant termed the conference a “wonderful success”, telling Cherwell that “so many people — from very different backgrounds and with different experiences — participated, learning about the root causes of the housing crisis, debating radical solutions, and making newconnections which are the seeds for implementing these solutions.”
University members were among those who praised the conference. Sophie Terrett, a third-year undergraduate and member of the Oxford Tenants’ Union, told Cherwell that the protest was relevant to students, saying, “In a recent NUS survey, 50 per cent of Oxford students said that they had experienced delays by their landlord when in need of house repairs and 20 per cent have experienced an animal infestation in their accommodation. This is clearly unacceptable and reflects a wider problem with student housing in Oxford and beyond.”
Danny Dorling, Oxford Professor of Human Geography, also took part in the conference, leading a presentation on inequality and the housing crisis. He told Cherwell, “In most of the country, many housing problems can be solved, given the housing stock that currently exists, by using it more efficiently, as we used to use it. However in Oxford, and especially nearby in London, there simply is not enough housing for the population any more.”
Highlighting the structural problems that this causes in the community, he added that the “lack of housing makes it hard to run universities, hospitals and local businesses”.
The protest comes as part of an ongoing debate over housing in Oxford, with a recent study showing that this is the most expensive place to buy a house in the UK, with property costing on average eleven times the salary of the average Oxford worker.
On average, homes in British cities now cost 5.8 times the typical local salary, while the price of an average property in Oxford has risen t0 £340,864, according to a recent study by Lloyds Bank.