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February 26, 2018 | by  | in From the Archives Opinion |
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From the Archives

The past has crucial lessons worth heeding in the present. We learn and grow from the mistakes of our predecessors. History never repeats. It’s a lovely sentiment.

Unfortunately, history can’t actually guarantee progress. More often than we’d like to admit, we end up rehashing the same problems time and again – same discussion, different decade. Exhibit A: it’s still impossible to find a flat in the city of Wellington. For your consideration:

“Naturally enough the present situation overwhelmingly favours landlords. More specifically, it is the sort of situation in which one is liable to find accommodation being offered at unreasonable rates. Worse still is the fact that many students may be forced to accept sub-standard living conditions, out of sheer desperation rather than overwhelming desire”

You probably feel like you’ve read this before. Maybe in the comments on someone’s desperate post on Flatmates Wanted Wellington (which has been shared to Vic Deals, printed in the classifieds, projected onto the face of the moon, etc.). In fact, this was published in the first issue of Salient in March 1971.

Every January and February throughout the 1970s, Vic students hustled to find a flat that wasn’t too expensive, too dingy, or too far from Kelburn. Every year, Salient reported that once again the University didn’t have enough room in its accommodation services, and that housing supply in the private market was woefully inadequate. The first issue of Salient in 1976 captures the all-too-familiar sense of lurching into the New Year with nowhere to live:

“The accommodation crisis emerged yet again into the fading sunlight of a pseudo-Wellington summer. It had been sheltering from the cold but yawned briefly and sprang forth when someone remembered he’d need a place to sleep in for 1976”.

There’s no doubt that the specific set of circumstances which gave rise to Wellington’s housing issues in the 1970s were different to those we face today – aside from anything else, students in the 1970s were getting free education and a cruisy bursary every week. However, the usual suspects were blamed – the University, the Government, Wellington City Council, penny-pinching landlords. Ultimately, now as then, it is these groups which hold the power to improve Wellington’s housing stock for students, and for all Wellington residents feeling the strain of high rents and low supply.

There have been some positive steps in recent years. To their credit, VUWSA is always doing mahi to try to effect change in student housing. But with students still looking for a roof over their heads as the trimester begins, and little reason to believe anything will be different this time next year, it’s hard not to feel that history is repeating itself.

My name is Max, and I’m writing my Master’s thesis on the history of Salient, because as a student with a lot of half-baked opinions I thought it’d be super cool to spend a year analysing the half-baked opinions of students from eighty years ago. Every other week I’ll highlight particularly interesting or topical pieces from the Salient archives.

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