Above Photo: Student Co-op Homes.
As student housing reaches crisis point in the UK, one organisation is determined to break the mould – and the grip of rogue landlords – by creating co-operatives to run accommodation.
Student Housing In Crisis
Housing for university students is in chaos. As the Guardian reported, charities are saying it’s the worst crisis since the 1970s. It noted that the company StuRents did research that:
suggests there is a shortfall of 207,000 student beds, and 19 towns and cities where there is more than a 10% undersupply of beds, ranging from 28% in Preston and 25% in Bristol to 10% in Birmingham and Swansea.
Martin Blakey from the charity Unipol told the Guardian:
purpose-built student accommodation has stopped expanding to the extent it was, and we don’t think that’s going to change. At the same time we think there’s a significant decrease in shared houses – [landlords] are moving back to renting to professionals or leaving the market.
The reason for the chaos is fairly obvious: government-driven privatisation of the sector. As a report by the Higher Education Police Institute noted:
Student housing no longer sits within the control of universities. Private sector involvement used to be confined to shared student housing in the community. Universities, for their part, owned and ran halls of residence. Now, almost half of residences are owned by private providers, working independently or alongside university partners.
However, students aren’t taking the chaos lying down. In Manchester, a rent strike is currently ongoing. Meanwhile, one group is helping students take direct control of their homes.
A Co-Operative Way
Student Co-op Homes (SCH) launched in March 2018:
It acts as an umbrella for student housing co-operatives. SCH explained in a press release that:
A student housing co-operative is a not-for-profit alternative housing model, whereby the tenants have control over their home. This enables the students living in them to learn and share skills to create homes where everyone collaborates for mutual benefit.
The group works with external people and organisations to build portfolios of properties for lease to local co-ops. So far, it’s had some success. SCH says on its website that:
We raised over £300,000 through our first community share offer, allowing us to start buying properties and help create a thriving student housing co-op movement.
It currently has ten co-ops under its umbrella. SCH works with students who would usually struggle to get housing. It aims to support them to create democratically run student housing co-operatives that remove what it calls “profiteering landlords” and make rents affordable. Moreover, the basis for the idea is evidenced around the world. SCH said in a press release:
We know from elsewhere in the world this model works and is replicable at scale. North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) has nearly 50 co-op members representing 4,000 co-operators across the USA and Canada. There are now four such co-ops in the UK (housing over 130 students) in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Sheffield and Brighton, plus active groups looking to secure property in Belfast, Bristol, Glasgow, Manchester, and Nottingham. Further enquiries are coming in every month.
Now, SCH has made further moves.
Ethical Financing Could Be The Key
The group has negotiated an agreement in principle with the ethical Ecology Building Society. It will provide SCH with mortgage finance. The group hopes it will make co-ops more accessible, encouraging more people to set them up. Ecology’s community and business development manager Jon Lee said:
We are a long-standing supporter of co-operative housing and we are very excited about the role of co-operatives in delivering affordable, energy efficient and high-quality rental accommodation for students. We look forward to working with SCH to help enable their vision to expand the availability of mutually owned student housing”.
We urge those such as university and college authorities who are in a position to support the expansion of student housing co-operatives – whether through providing finance or making suitable properties available – to do so as a matter of urgency, in order to address the desperate situation in which so many students now find themselves.
The co-op model could well be the way forward for student housing – and anything that takes power away from parasitic landlords can only be a good thing.