Two Views. You Choose: Co-ops: solution to the student housing crisis?

Friday 16-10-2015 - 14:05

In the lead up to our annual Zone Conferences, NUS is highlighting the key issues from each of the five Zones. For this Two Views You Choose piece, we’re exploring the debate around the solutions to student housing.  Agree? Disagree? Have your say by voting in the poll at the bottom of the page.

At Welfare Conference, we will be hosting a workshop on student housing, presenting ideas for campaigns to tackle the crisis.

One of those ideas is Co-operatives. In the last two years, several student housing co-ops have been opened; providing low-cost, democratic alternatives to the private rented sector.

Some argue this is the future for affordable housing, others say it is a resource-heavy initiative with tenant activist time best spent elsewhere. Are co-ops a useful, sustainable alternative to high rents and poor conditions? Agree? Disagree? Have your say by voting in the poll at the bottom of the page.

Are housing co-ops a solution to the student housing crisis?

Yes - housing by students, for students
Christy McMorrow, SU President, Sheffield Students’ Union

Most of us in the student movement would be content to accept that the idea of student-led change is at the core of what we are about. In our liberation work, we seek to challenge the very assumptions of society and its oppressive structures. In our education work, we often seek to articulate a vision of what the Higher and Further Education sectors should look like, not just what is wrong with them.

Yet when tackling with issues relating to housing, a core feature of any student’s welfare, we often restrict ourselves to rewarding the better landlords with awards, putting pressure on rogue letting agents and giving students information on how to avoid bad landlords. All of this work is incredibly important and is vital to student welfare, but it has the fatal flaw of failing to demonstrate what we really believe housing could be like for students.

But in Sheffield, Edinburgh and Birmingham, students have made this work possible in practice, by setting up their own student housing co-operatives. In a housing co-op, rent doesn’t go to the pockets of a landlord, it goes directly to mortgage payments and the upkeep of the property, as democratically decided by residents. Students living in a co-op don’t have to worry about false charges from letting agents or poor upkeep; they work together as a community to improve their accommodation.

And housing co-operatives aren’t just good for those who choose to live in them either; they help to improve the whole of student housing. By challenging the notion that students require landlords just to get by, rogue landlords will be forced to improve all else be pushed out of the housing market. Put simply, the larger a housing co-operative is, the more pressure it puts on local landlords to perform. What’s more the existence of a housing co-op may help invigorate a further non-landlord housing system, with student involvement in housing associations a possibility waiting to be unlocked.

But perhaps just as important as all of this is that housing co-operatives fit a vision for student life that all of us in the student movement should share; that students should be empowered in society. When we feel disempowered in our education, we seek a student influence in a democratic education system. So too should we seek a democratic housing system to challenge the exploitation of students in housing. We all need houses and we all want them to be of good quality and value. The market fails us too often; it’s time we took control for ourselves.

No - housing co-ops are nice, but they’re not the answer
Hannah Webb, NUS National Executive Council (NEC)

There has been a recent insurgence in the creation of housing co-ops by students in the UK, one in Birmingham, a whole student hall housing co-op in Edinburgh, and Sheffield.

These spaces are undoubtedly extremely useful, allowing organising space for activists, giving people greater control over their living conditions, and of course, rent is cheaper. However, what we are facing is a systematic problem, and to solve that solutions need to be systematic, rather than individualised as well.

A housing co-op is ultimately a shared mortgage, and the repayments or the rent residents pay, is linked to the value of the property.
Rent is high partly due to a huge shortage in housing, partly as a result of artificially high house prices, used for speculation and as a global currency, and those who can afford to often buy houses to supplement their incomes, endlessly driving prices up. It is no surprise that when a third of MPs are buy-to-let landlords that it is landlords interests being protected rather than tenants.

There is not one simple policy-based solution to housing, though there are things that could make it less severe in a broad way - more housing needs to be built in places where people live, there needs to be more jobs available outside London, and there should be rent controls and rent caps, and better tenancy rights.

Are housing co-ops a solution to the student housing crisis?
Yes - housing by students, for students
No - housing co-ops are nice, but they’re not the answer
Poll Maker


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