University Housing: Students Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

Could the recent growth in student housing co-operatives be one solution to the challenge of housing students in an affordable, fair way?

With the start of a new university term, many students will have recently moved into halls of residence. The quality of student accommodation has generally improved a lot over the last few years, with many halls of residence now having en-suite rooms, cleaners and on-site gyms. Although high standards are to be applauded, the costs of such accommodation are often out of reach for many students and there have been several recent news reports about the increasingly high rents charged by universities for the student accommodation they provide.

The 'Cut the Rent' campaign represents a group of student activists who are holding their universities to account for allowing rents to soar, often exceeding costs in the private rented sector. The National Union of Students (NUS) claims that rent accounted for 73% of the maximum student loan last year, compared to 58% in 2011-12. This doesn't leave those students with much to live on, and it has a direct impact on studies, as many students are forced to have to work long hours at the same time as studying, to make ends meet.

Where university accommodation is unaffordable, students are forced to seek alternatives in the private rental sector, where they are subject to the varying standards of private landlords. Housing may not always be good quality, and recent research highlights the impact this can have on mental and physical health. Rents may also be high and students have little control over their living spaces.

What is the alternative?

Over the last couple of years, we have seen a rise in student housing co-operatives, presenting an alternative to university halls or private landlords. Leading this movement is Student Co-op Homes, which supports housing co-operatives in Birmingham, Edinburgh and Sheffield. It has just launched a share offer, to allow it to expand and purchase properties which would then be leased to student housing co-operatives in other university towns across the UK. Students pay rent to their local housing co-operative in return for the right to live in its property. As members of the co-operative, they are also responsible for management and maintenance themselves, learning important life skills and maintaining a degree of control over the condition of their property.

The responsibility associated with owning and managing a property may be a...

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