As a response to the crisis situation in housing, students are taking control of their housing with the power of co-operation. Inspired by examples from North America to Australia, some student groups in the UK have set up housing co-ops to self-manage their accommodation and create their own homes. Student housing co-ops don’t have landlords setting the rules. Instead, students organise as communities to co-operatively manage their homes and to decide how things work on the day-to-day.
The UK housing market is failing much of the population, depriving many people of access to decent and affordable homes. Students suffer their own version of this housing crisis.
Rents across the UK are skyrocketing, with many students in cities like Edinburgh and Brighton paying upwards of £700 per month for a single room in a shared flat. All the while, landlords neglect their responsibility to make timely repairs, fail to upgrade windows and insulation to protect residents from cold and damp, and squeeze too many people into inadequate, overcrowded spaces. Poor tenant protections and perverse incentives enable landlords instead to pursue their own financial gain at the cost of decent homes.
A new and growing for-profit student accommodation industry has barrelled into neighbourhoods, capitalising on record numbers of students, who often have nowhere else to turn. Their high-rise private halls displace local shops and residents and massively increase population densities, upending long-standing communities. This is no minor blip on the radar—it is a £50 billion industry, with almost 60% of recent investment coming from outside the UK, according to Savills.
University halls today feel less and less like educational communities, as they are now part of their universities’ commercial wings. Student reporters at the University of East Anglia, for example, exposed how their university has driven up rents to cross-subsidise other parts of the university to the tune of millions of pounds each year. And for their thousands of pounds in rent, student residents still cannot paint their walls, cannot install spice racks to make the meals they want to eat, cannot even replace inadequate furniture with a larger charity-shop find so they can comfortably invite their neighbours over for dinner.
The housing system in the UK is not designed to enable people to make good homes that they can afford. Housing in the UK is a financial tool, a tool that owners use to exploit residents for financial gain. This system of housing, built on exploitation, contributes directly to student poverty and to an alarming rise in levels of stress and poor mental and physical health.
As a response to this crisis situation, students are taking control of their housing with the power of co-operation. Inspired by examples from North America to Australia, some student groups in the UK have set up housing co-ops to self-manage their accommodation and create their own homes. Student housing co-ops don’t have landlords setting the rules. Instead, students organise as communities to co-operatively manage their homes and to decide how things work on the day-to-day.
By shifting the focus away from private profit, rents can be reduced to a more reasonable level, and money can be reinvested to improve the houses students live in. There are three successful examples already up and running in the UK: Edinburgh, Sheffield and Birmingham student housing co-ops provide quality homes to more than 100 students at much more affordable rents.
New student groups have formed all over the country as an attempt to replicate this success, demonstrating the need for this new housing model and its ability to provide decent, affordable places for them to live. However, it has been a great challenge for these groups to access the necessary capital quickly enough to acquire properties, and none of them have yet succeeded to do so on their own.
Nottingham Student Housing Co-operative formed in early 2015. Primarily represented at the University of Nottingham they have worked extensively to help establish Student Co-operative Homes over the past few years with the long term aim of obtaining property through it for themselves and to provide a national organisation to establish other student housing co-ops across the UK.
They began from observing the detrimental lack of investment by landlords on student dense areas of Nottingham and the dire relationships between students and the locals. They wanted to firmly plant their stakes in the community showing students are not what they are perceived to be; they are responsible, they will invest and are positive stakeholders in the community when they have control over their own affairs.
Nottingham Student Housing Co-operartive want to take on the virtual monopoly of landlords that have brought us to where we are. There are countless stories of poor student housing, damp, mould, pests, etc and the poor physical and mental health effects have provided extra drive to their conviction that co-operation and doing things for ourselves is the only way to change the situation. Work to date had meant a lot of stakeholder engagement locally and education explaining their model and overall the response has been positive - they are looking forward to living in their own homes.
SEASALT was founded in spring 2018 to create affordable, high-quality housing for students run by students. The core working group is made up of students from both the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex. They currently have 7 active members and aim to increase their membership as new freshers takeover from recent graduates. Over the last eighteen months SEASALT has succeeded in: securing over £40,266 pre-development funding from Homes England, £8k from Brighton & Hove Community Land Trust, £15k from Reach which will be used to raise investment to make the property more energy efficient, £10k unrestricted funding from University of Sussex.
SEASALT has also:
Glasgow Student Housing Co-operative was formed in November 2016. As a group of 10 students from various universities in Glasgow, they have been working hard to offer a real alternative to the current housing provision for students in the city. Glasgow is the most expensive city in the UK for students so they are really excited by the prospect of co-operative housing, where they can regain autonomy over their living situation, learn a host of invaluable skills, and foster a community built on mutual aid and co-operation.
Since getting incorporated in March 2017, GSHC have conducted surveys with students to gauge interest in co-operative living, received financial, governance, and media training, networked with other co-ops both in the city and further afield, including Student Co-op Homes and Students for Co-operation, collaborated with Glasgow City Council, held a number of fundraisers and public events, viewed properties, and written secondary policies, as well as keeping the co-op ticking away on a day-to-day basis! With three universities, an art school, a conservatoire, and numerous colleges in Glasgow, there is a huge demand for affordable, collectively run housing and the sense of community offered by co-operative living.
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