Here’s what the rest of the world is saying about ESHC and the growing movement to ditch landlords and push for affordable, community oriented housing for students:
Edinburgh is famous for its history, its architecture and its literature, but it’s not known for cheap rental property. Well, students at the University of Edinburgh say that this is about to change. The Edinburgh Student Housing Co-op, which launched publically last night at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) chaplaincy, aims to provide cheap rents to Edinburgh students squeezed by landlords.
Those behind the campaign say they want to follow the business model developed by students in the USA, where small-scale housing co-ops have existed for over 70 years. They say that the example of students at Michigan State University, where over 4,000 students live in housing cooperatives, proves that students can be trusted to manage without help from university faculties.
Surviving on baked beans and pasta is not unusual for students and living in cold, damp and run-down flats is a rite of passage.
But that’s about to change in Edinburgh thanks to a few students who could no longer stomach private landlords hiking up rents for often sub-standard housing.
They were also fed up with high living costs discouraging people from low and middle income backgrounds from applying to study in the capital.
Are you tired of dealing with landlords? The questionable plumbing skills, the endless ignored requests to have that grim shower curtain replaced, the battle to get your deposit returned?
For students in the UK, riding the rental rollercoaster is considered an unavoidable part of the university experience, and the ups and downs don’t come cheap. The National Union of Students (NUS) reports that English students can expect to pay £4,834 a year in rent; in London the average student shells out £6,143.
Mike Shaw, one of the central figures behind the project, told me the cooperative aims to offer rooms for as little as £260 a month. “It was an idea we had over a cup of tea a year ago. Basically, we want it to be a good community that people want to live in, the sort of place they can get excited about.”
Independent from the students’ union and the university, it could offer an alternative for the city’s 37,000-strong student population to lacklustre landlords. “It’ll be a different way of doing business,” says Shaw.
‘You be the landlord this time.’ ‘Yeah, all right then.’ I’m visiting student flats in Edinburgh and the new residents are signing their contracts. On first glance, it looks like an average beginning of the academic year, but there’s something special going on here. This 106-bed property in the heart of the city is one of only two student housing co-operatives in Britain, both opening their doors this autumn. These young people are tired of high rents and exploitative landlords, and have taken matters into their own hands.
Smith is a member of the inaugural year of the co-op, an early test subject of a social experiment two years in the making. The hypothesis is simple: if students could commandeer their own accommodation and organise their own rent, landlords and their attendant fees could be bypassed. Living costs would decrease. Prohibitive living restrictions would be eradicated. Students would be liberated into letting their lifestyles dictate their accommodation, rather than restricted into the other way around. And, perhaps most ambitiously, they would live and operate in cohesive harmony.
Now, five months in, co-op residents have declared that hypothesis resoundingly proven, and Smith is no exception.
“It hit me hardest after Christmas”, she told The Student: “I came back to the co-op and I realised that my joy in returning to this place was exactly the same as the joy I’d felt going home for the holidays. It’s not just a building. It’s a family.”
In some areas of the country living costs are outstripping student loans, and Shelter says half of students are struggling to pay their rent. According to student housing charity Unipol, student rents rose 25% between 2010 and 2013 as universities sold off their own low-rent stock and private companies built luxury accommodation, while the National Union of Students has described the cost of housing as being at an absolute crisis point.
A housing co-operative isn’t a new idea, but they are still relatively rare. And student versions even more so: the Sheffield one is thought to be only the UK’s third, following similar set-ups in Birmingham and Edinburgh.
The co-op, an incorporated body at Companies House, controls the property, and for the time they live there residents become members of it. Effectively, the housemates are both landlord and tenants, living in the property but also collectively managing it, setting the rent, managing the house’s finances and making democratic decisions about the property’s upkeep. There is no profit – the income from rent goes towards paying off the mortgage and maintenance costs.