Demonstrate the value of housing co-ops for providing affordable housing and helping reach sustainability and net-zero emissions targets. Participate in research and partnerships to achieve this aim
Long term and environmental sustainability
Minimise, environmental impact and carbon emissions. Aim for minimal/zero waste and the circular economy. Provide long term secure housing
What are the current issues with student housing?
The problems with student housing are, we believe, endemic of the wider issues with the housing market in this country. Skyrocketing house and rent prices, a lack of good quality green social housing and insecure, short term tenancy contracts all contribute to a difficult and rigged housing ladder that leaves people and students stuck in and endless spiral of poor quality accommodation and almost inescapable expensive rent prices.
For students, these issues are only enhanced as landlords and letting agents look to exploit our inexperience and precarious, insecure situations frequently to make maximum profit for minimum effort. This means that student accommodation often exemplifies the worst aspects of housing in this country and it is very difficult to break the yearly cycle of renting with private landlords who usually have no incentive to improve student living conditions. The top 5 list of problems that we have compiled below match these aspects and make the basis of our aims as we try to change the student housing market for the better. Taking back land for the many, we can create secure homes that are of community benefit forever, in this case for students and run by students. Read on to find out how we propose to fulfill our aims and create affordable, sustainable, community-owned student accommodation:
Top 5 problems with student accommodation
Toggle the list to reveal each of the 5 points. Read a short summary of each followed by the longer detail
- Students often live in and put up with poor living conditions. The top 5 most common problems include:
- Unsafe and/or outdated appliances.
- Poorly maintained property i.e mould on the walls, dirty carpets, peeling paint.
- Overcrowded: living space converted and bedrooms sliced in half to cram in more students.
- Broken elements and long waits for a fix. i.e broken boiler (no hot water and heating) broken appliances. 1/3 issues take longer then 1 week to be resolved.
- Conflict with letting agents and landlords. For example, who should maintain the garden?, landlords claiming students deposits to fix non-existent issues or issues that already existed at the start of the tenancy. Hidden charges and letting agent fees.
- Landlords and letting agents often have no incentive to fix these issues (maximum profit for minimum effort). Students are often reluctant to challenge these issues as they are usually living on precarious short term contracts and will move on at the end of the year. Landlords and letting agents often take a long time to reply to messages, don't fix issues and or threaten to leave bad references and take students' deposits when they report issues.
- Students pay on average £126/week to rent and should expect much better quality for this price i.e bigger living spaces, NO or minimal issues with their accommodation, quick fixes . These problems can often affect students' physical and mental health.
As a student or even a renter in general have you ever had an issue with your accommodation? Broken and/or outdated appliances, mould on the walls, overgrown gardens, dirty carpets, peeling paint and sometimes downright dangerous living conditions. The list could go on but I'm sure most people will be able to relate to at least one if not more of the above problems.
Conditions like this are expected to crop up in any accommodation situation from time to time but the issue in this country and in particular, in the student rental market, is that these issues often appear a lot more often than they should. There are far too many stories of renters being let down by their landlords and letting agents. For example, students in Brighton recently fought a case against an estate agent where they were threatened with a bad reference for reporting an oven that would catch fire upon use. Obviosity this is unacceptable but all too often this is the normal service received from slum landlords and dodgy letting agents across the country.
For students, these issues happen even more frequently and almost every student we have spoken too has experienced at least one of these during the course of their study. What's more, landlords and letting agents are often very reluctant or even totally against doing anything about it. In fact, more than 1/3 of the reported issues are not solved within a week and that's without including all of the unreported issues that students simply put up with as a fact of life.
After all, what incentive to landlords and letting agents have to upgrade and fix student accommodation in a timely and efficient manner? On average they can charge £126/week for these conditions and just wait for students to live out their precarious 1 year contract before moving them on and then ushering in next years victims.
Because of this, students are often reluctant and unwilling to challenge landlords and letting agents whilst demanding better living conditions. If your contract requires you to move on at the end of the year, it is often not worth standing up to mistreatment especially as you sometimes won't even get a reply or worse, threatened worth a bad reference and even eviction! In reality, for £126/week students should expect much better living conditions which could include, bigger living spaces, modern kitchens, maintained gardens and minimal issues that are fixed in a timely fashion.
Poor quality housing can also affect students physical and mental health. Broken appliances and mould on the walls for example, can cause respiratory problems and issues that prevent students from accessing hot water and showers that are essential for people with joint problems including arthritis. Mentally, it can be difficult for people to adapt to student life whilst dealing with the stress of university. Other life issues such as discovering their place in the world and dealing with their sexuality and gender identity can be pushed aside when their safe space that should include their accommodation isn't up to standard. Furthermore, it is unfair to expect students to continually pester and repeat message their landlord and/or letting agent to get basic problems fixed, particularly when they should be focusing on their studies and striking a good work/life balance.
- Students often sign precarious 1 year contracts with no long term sustainability. This leaves students with no accommodation stability and little choice but to move into new accommodation year on year.
- Landlords are free to evict students, raise rents and abuse precarious contract situations each year. This makes it much easier for landlords and letting agents to exploit students and use their insecure situations against them.
- Precarious contracts lead to poor quality, expensive and environmentally unsustainable accommodation. Students are reluctant to challenge landlords and demand change to their accommodation as they move on frequently. Landlords have no incentive to improve conditions as it makes most financial sense to keep the status quo and leave houses in poor condition for longer. Lastly, students have no long term stability in which to create a sustainable lifestyle encompassing many aspects of sustainability.
A common experience for many students is to live in private rented accommodation (from landlords or letting agents) - 54% of UK students as of 2019. A further 9% live in private rented halls. This clearly puts huge demands on the private sector to supply accommodation for students but also makes its a lucrative business venture. This means that university towns often have a unique supply and demand cycle whereby a large proportion of the housing 'stock' in the local area is taken up by students. Over time this has become more prevalent as higher education has become marketised and more and more people choose or are advised to go to university. According to a student accommodation briefing paper for the house of commons, a report by Higher Education Policy Institute, HEPI titled 'somewhere to live' says that the current system of student accommodation is 'not working as well as it should'. The report cites some areas saturated with unfinished developments and others with not enough rooms. In fact, most universities do not have enough places in managed accommodation to house all students and most have to prioritise housing first year students.
This unique supply and demand feature leads to a short term cycle of precarious and often expensive, poor value accommodation which is covered below. Universities are under pressure to supply new rooms to first year students every year and landlords and letting agents buy up housing stock to cram full with each years crop of university students. University towns are often hit hard by this with local residents sometimes reporting noisy students, family homes eaten up by letting agents and landlords (some of whom live hundreds of miles away) and local area becoming 'ghost towns' at certain times of the year e.g christmas and summer holidays. The FAQ for the house of commons suggests that the problems with the student housing market are not caused by a lack of housing but by a lack of affordable accommodation. I would somewhat agree, the figures show that there is a chronic lack of housing in this country in general, in particular, affordable, green, social housing. In fact, housebuilding is at its lowest for over 30 years. This means that the above problems exemplify a lack of housing in general which might not be prevalent if one were to solely focus on the figures for student housing. Therefore, whilst the student market might be dominated by slum landlords and letting agents, they are taking up the scarce existing housing stock creating a false sense of housing supply.
With regards to the stability of this student housing monopoly in university towns, most students will sign up to precarious 1 year contracts with no option but to move on year or year if they fail or can't extend their current contract. Landlords and letting agents know this. Students are more likely to have accommodation issues for example with rent or dropping their course/moving universities etc. Thus, the priority for the letting agents and landlords is to mitigate this risk rather then eliminating it by providing long term stability and flexibility as this could cause them profit loss. For example if they are locked into multi year contracts with fixed rent with no option for rent increases or if they can't charge new students hidden fees or agents fees and don't have the flexibility to evict students when they become 'unprofitable'. This means that short term inflexible contracts are the preferred option and students are trapped in a yearly renting cycle.
3.Expensive and poor value for money
- Students accommodation is often poor value for money and on average students in the UK pay £126/week for their accommodation and £150/week in the South East - landlords and letting agents can charge high prices because a lack of quality available housing stock leaves students with little alternative. Universities have the same issue and often have a short supply of on campus accommodation meaning that they have to prioritise first year students at best and turn away prospective students at worst.
- Poor quality housing means that these expensive prices don't offer good value for money - Many student houses share a lot of the 'poor quality' issues talked about in the above section. This means that at best some students are living in broken housing and at worst housing that severely affects their physical and mental health. This should be unacceptable by anyone's standards. Poor value for students = good value for landlords and letting agents.
- Profits are not reinvested into the house - Landlords and letting agents exist to make profit from housing. In the student housing market there is little incentive for Landlords and letting agents to upgrade/retrofit houses and reinvest any of THEIR profit back into the house. This means students often have no energy saving improvements no modern appliances and much more.
- Private developers and universities often gentrify student housing raising prices and leaving low income students in tough situations - In many university towns, private developers, landlords and letting agents buy up affordable housing stock in large quantities and charge mark up prices. This leads to 'gentrification' i.e removal of affordability and influx of wealthy or expensive services. This also removes existing housing stock that is needed by low income and/or disadvantaged people in the local area.
- Students often have no say on the contents of their tenancy agreement - missing out on the option to own pets, manage their house and at worse, placed in constant fear of eviction - Landlords and letting agents often include nasty surprises in tenancy agreements for students. Hidden fees and the power to evict people without prior reason or warning are just a few of the terrible examples that we have heard. Moreover, many students miss out on many opportunities such as the ability to own pets and manage their house for example, fixing things quickly without having to go through a 'middleperson' such as a landlord.
- Housing stock in the UK contributes to a
Student accommodation statistics and facts
How do we meet our aims?
Aim: Provide High Quality Housing
Have you ever experienced broken appliances or mould on the walls as a student? The chances are that you have and x students have experienced these problems. most student houses are either built to low standards or not retrofitted up to the appropriate modern quality. The top issues include:
- Mouldy walls and damp
- Outdated appliances and cramped kitchens
- Unsuitable bathrooms i.e pathetic showers and high water usage
- Drafty windows and lack of double glazing (colder when students want to save on heating bills)
- Broken boilers and heating
- No energy saving or environmental efficiency considerations
How will we address these problems?
- Before the first students move in, the house will be retrofitted to the highest standards most likely including modern, energy efficient appliances, double glazing, insulation, modern boiler + bathrooms and even garden landscaping including space to grow food, wildlife friendly planting and an outside social space. We are also discussing ‘Passivehause’ and it’s equivalent ‘Enerphit’ which are the highest energy efficiency standards achievable in new builds and pre-built/retrofititng respectively.
- At SEASALT all of our tenants rent money will be used to either pay of the mortgage/lease and investors or will be re-invested back into the house in the form of a pot fund – rather then lining a landlords pocket. This means that any broken appliances can be fixed quickly and easily with no middle man in the from of a landlord. Decisions are made by the tenants and in our case, this will sometimes be in consultation with BHCLT who will lease us our house.
- The pot fund can be used for housing improvements and long-term investments. For example, at the housing co-op where our ex-chair, Sim, lives, they have just invested in solar panels for the roof saving them up to 50% on energy bills and more on carbon emissions. This is almost always unachievable in private rented accommodation.
Aim: Provide Affordable Housing That Is Good Value For Money
Without going into too much detail here, the housing crisis and a lack of house building have pushed up prices and rents faster than incomes. This means that the cost of buying a home is unaffordable for most young people and a reliance on short-term rented accommodation is common. In fact, down here in Brighton, the Argus (our local newspaper) reported that to would take more than 16 years for someone on the average wage to afford the price of the average Brighton home. What’s more across the country we see 83% of students living in private rented accommodation. The recent rent strikes that we have seen in universities across the country epitomise this and what some are describing as a ‘morally bankrupt higher education system’.
However, rip off rents are a common affair for students everywhere. In fact, the average rent price for students is £126/week country wide and £150/week in London and the south east, an extortionate amount. This means that most students will spend most or all of their maintenance loan on their rent and the majority of students from low income backgrounds struggle to afford this. What’s more we can link this back to our first aim of quality housing, because most houses are not retrofitted to appropriate standards. This means that low quality appliances, poor insulation and more push up energy bills and provide a poor value for money experience. So, the top issues include:
- High rent prices averaging £150/week in the south east
- Poor value for money
- Rent prices rising faster than incomes (and inflation)
How will we address these problems?
- At SEASALT we aim to charge £105/week rent which fits into the national ‘affordable’ category of less than 80% of the market average. (it’s actually 70% of £150!). We can do this because our rent money does not fund the lifestyle of a private landlord and instead is spent on paying off our mortgage/lease, paying our investors and reinvested into a house pot fun for repairs and improvements to our house. Furthermore, our lease with BHCLT gives members more responsibility over our house, possibly a bit more work, but it helps our members learn new skills and keeps our rents low. Therefore, the democratic nature of our housing model means that we incorporate 3 fundamentals into our affordability promise:
- Low rent prices.
- Stability via a long-term lease.
- Reinvestment of rents back into the house and good value for money.
2. As we have discussed in our first aim of ‘Quality housing’, we will retrofit our house to the highest standards. The energy use of the house will be much closer to zero This means low energy bills with modern appliances, renovated rooms and a landscaped garden which will all provide good value for money.
3. We aim to increase rents ONLY in line with inflation each year. Once our partners Brighton and Hove Community Land Trust have secured a sustainable model, and progressed with future projects, we aim to, at the very least, keep our rents within the national affordable standard of 80% of the local market average. Watch this space for more information about this as our project progresses!
Aim: Create a vibrant community of knowledge and skills sharing
All co-operatives should show Concern for Community’ one of the 7 co-operative principles. In theory, this could just mean supporting other co-ops and the communities that they work in. In practice, this might mean a whole lot of different things focussing on people and planet.
Housing and financial issues can often hinder students from contributing to their community and taking part in local and national campaigns. We want to give students a stable long-term base which should help alleviate some of the burdens that prevent them from taking part in their local or national community. We also want to take part in as many campaigns and events as possible and support organisations that share our values and aims. Here are some examples of what we have already done or aim to be doing:
- Our ex-chair, Sim, helped to set up the Green Renters Campaign in Brighton following on from her final year research project. Spearheaded by local MP Caroline Lucas, the aim is to encourage letting agents and landlords across the city to retrofit their student properties and make them more environmentally friendly by encouraging them to make use of various initiatives such as the nation ‘Green Homes Grant’.
- We have recently supported the student rent strikes taking place across the country. As a result, we hope to play a key role in ‘Crisis Action Sussex’ alongside the 3 unions, Unite, Unison and the UCU. We are mentioned as an alternative in their report on how ‘the nature of student housing needs to be reconsidered’.
- We have given talks to ‘Action Hampshire’ and at the ‘Breaking Ground Festival’ in Liverpool, a community-led housing hub for the Liverpool City Region. As a result City Councilors in Liverpool want to set up their own student housing co-operative.
- Recently we featured in Novara Media talking about housing co-ops and our journey at SEASALT.
How will we address these problems?
- Take part in and/or support local and national campaigns such as the rent strikes and the Green Renters Campaign in Brighton.
- Support other co-ops including lots of local ones! We aim to procure most of our initial house items locally either recycled or from built by other local co-ops and sustainable organisations.
- Make our media as accessible as possible.
- Limit our impact on disadvantage communities.
- Give talks and educational materials in communities and events across the country.
Aim: Maximise democratic control of the co-op – create democratic housing for tenants
What does Democracy mean to you? All co-ops function a lot like a workers/members democracy. This means that members, workers or in the case of a housing co-op, tenants, have complete control over the way their organisation/accommodation is run. In traditional student accommodation, private landlords or universities have all of the say over what happens to the house, what you can do to your rooms and what happens if something goes wrong. This leaves students at the mercy of dodgy contracts and gives them no say in their often short-term housing situations. In a housing co-op, the members decide what happens to the house. everything from helping to draft the lease (similar to the tenancy agreements financial side), all the way to crafting the policies and rules (similar to the tenancy agreement rules) and building the interior space. Read on to find out exactly how we will address this.
How will we address these problems?
- All decisions at the co-op will be made democratically, with the one member one vote ideal – no one person’s vote is worth more than another and there is no hierarchy. Also, no one can buy votes similar to what some political parties might do in elections.
- Our house design, values and tenant policies are all visualised and drafted by our members. This will include all of our house rules/policies and we will have input into the lease on our house with BHCLT (we will get professional lawyers to review the lease before we sign it). We run accessible workshops and meetings to decide and implement all of these.
- Our members will he responsible for more aspects of our house. Whilst this might sound like more work for tenants, it gives people a chance to learn new life skills and crucially gives us full autonomy over our house and a chance for members to vote on issues that might affect them and have their say. For example, we might be responsible for maintaining the interior surfaces of the walls. This means that our members will have the option to paint and design the walls as they wish or put up shelves and much more which would not be possible in a typical tenant-landlord relationship. All of these rules and our tenant’s specific responsibilities will be laid out in the SEASALT – BHCLT lease.
- Our democratic co-op is not a clique or a private members club! We welcome input and ideas from everyone and all sections of the community and we take all feedback very seriously. We aim to educate everyone about co-ops and the co-operative movement to give them access to the knowledge and skills that they would need to get involved or have an input into the things that we do. Better education = more democracy in our opinion!
Aim: Educate our members, the student body and wider community about co-ops and housing justice
The percentage of people that live in housing co-ops in the UK is much lower then on the continent in Europe. Education forms a key part of this and understanding the housing market, its drivers and what the alternatives are empowers people to look at different ways of living and taking back control of their housing as a human right.
In our view, the housing market in the UK is broken with rents and house prices rising faster then inflation and a lack of green affordable housing stock. We want to teach people about this and how housing co-ops offer one way of contributing to the housing justice movement and in turn changing the housing market for the better.
Furthermore, most students don’t have the opportunity to gain or learn any skills when they move away from home for university. As we have seen, the traditional market with private landlords, short term contracts leaves students with little choice and no incentives to invest in long term belongings or their accommodation. We want to teach students about housing co-ops not only as a source of affordable accommodation but also as a way of learning new sills, taking on responsibility and taking pride in the places that they live.
How will we address these problems?