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The Squatters' Handbook is a resource for homeless people. It provides practical and legal information required by those seeking to find housing for themselves in abandoned buildings. The book does not seek to incite "illegal" activities (trespass is a criminal offence in NSW) but to provide essential information to people who might need it. Squatting has always been a tactic for finding housing in urban areas, all around the world. With the burgeoning real-estate investment market in Sydney, rental properties for low-income earners have become unaffordable in the last ten years. At the same time, the waiting list for public housing grows longer, while the state government sells off its available housing stock to developers. The Squatters' Handbook merely provides information to those already inclined to seek their own solutions in this unfriendly social environment.Squatters' Handbook Chapter 1
Why Squat? Why Not?
Are you being squeezed out by ridiculously high rents and the gentrification of cities? Tired of waiting for disinterested governments to come to your assistance? Fed up with sleeping in parks/bus shelters/friends’ lounge room floors? Want to create and control your own living space? Take matters into your own hands — Go squat! There have been squatters for as long as the concept of owning land has existed: squatting on land that legally belongs to someone else takes place all over the world. There are probably as many reasons for squatting as there are people who squat — here are just a few of the things that motivate them.
Despite government policies aimed at promoting ‘affordable’ housing, it’s clear that the number of low-income people able to afford housing is rapidly decreasing. The cost of private rental accommodation is increasing exponentially, pushing many low-income earners away from the areas in which they and their friends live. The private rental market is largely deregulated and tenancy laws afford low-income earners little protection from the increasingly exorbitant rents demanded by landowners and their real estate agents. It’s profit margins that count. Look at the scale of urban gentrification in Sydney at the moment — it doesn’t look like abating in the near future does it? Relax. It’s only natural — the strong over the weak. One day, when you can afford to purchase property of your own, you will understand. You too will give the gift of rental accommodation to someone who has enough money to afford it but not enough to return the gift. And they will give you the security you need for further speculation in real estate. Everyone’s a winner!
Why Wait Endlessly for Handouts?
Public housing once may have been an alternative. But with waiting lists as long as they are, and with waiting time of up to 12 years, government housing is not really a viable option for many. As governments become visibly less interested in housing low-income people — by selling Department of Housing land to private developers, cutting back on spending for new housing, outsourcing their role to private contractors in ‘community housing’ — it becomes more blatantly obvious that to rely on their goodwill to satisfy your housing needs and wants is a ploddingly dangerous mistake. People used to squat government-owned buildings before any others because it was thought there was more room to negotiate with ‘public’ authorities with a ‘conscience’, than with ‘private’ property speculators and companies who were more obviously concerned with ‘making money’. Now there are no doubts that such a comforting distinction cannot be maintained. What is ‘public’ space and what is ‘private’ space? They seem to have melded and colluded some time ago, and if they are keeping any secret it is this: welcome to a world without clear borders where power is much more diffuse and consumption (of goods, services, information) is all-encompassing.
If you can’t afford to purchase private property — or simply don’t want to assist private property owners to purchase more property by paying them excessive rent — there is no need to wait for the private rental market and/or the government to provide a solution to your housing needs. There are hundreds of houses/buildings left empty right now while people who are in need are left homeless or live in substandard and unaffordable accommodation. Help yourself and solve your own housing problems — squat in these buildings before the owners let them rot!
Maintain your Independence
Squatting allows you autonomy. Despite the ‘threat of eviction’, squatting actually gives you a high degree of control over where and how you choose to live. It enables you and the others that you squat with to learn a great deal about how to repair a building and organise your living space according to your individual and collective desires — a privilege usually reserved for owners of private property. And when you create that kind of autonomy you tend to actively participate in maintaining it, rather than simply waiting for the government / rental market to try and provide housing for you.
Town planners and ‘housing experts’ have long been perplexed as to why government programs to ‘house the poor’ in Western and non-Western countries fail to satisfy people’s needs for housing and community, while self-help squatter settlements around the world have been so successful. The answer lies in the autonomy that squatters create and maintain for themselves by taking control of their own housing problems.
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