One of our current key programmes at World Habitat is community-led housing, something that until recently was, sadly, a rather alien concept to me, the new World Habitat intern. As a recent geography graduate and all-round geography nerd the community part seemed simple, people coming together with shared values in a specific place. Yet, it was difficult to get my head around how the coming together of people could ever lead to permanently affordable housing. This doubt was worsened by the fact that as a young person I am constantly plagued with negative media suggesting I am never likely to own my own home, access affordable rent etc.
For me it seems a shame that young people are consistently seen as powerless victims in today’s ‘housing crisis’, at the mercy of a housing system which means we are continually struggling to access good quality, affordable accommodation.
However, a month into my internship I am well on my way to becoming a community-led housing enthusiast, having discovered there are inspiring examples of community-led housing projects focused on young people. Some offer young people the chance to develop their own housing whilst others develop housing to cater specifically for young people’s needs. As I have just left my student days behind this blog focuses on how students can get involved in community-led housing. I will be doing future blogs continuing the theme of young people.
As the new university year begins the issue of rising student rents is in many students’ minds. Coming from university in London where average student rents are a ridiculous £148 per week this is something which particularly angers me. In fact it has been suggested that average student rents amount to 95% of student maintenance loans with student rents rising by 20% in the UK in the last two years. Following University College London rent strikes in early 2016 there are talks of further nationwide student protests supported by the National Union of Students in the next few months to continue to fight the problem.
However, the development of student housing cooperatives in the UK offers a solution to this issue. Developed using the housing cooperative model student housing cooperatives consist of a shared property purchased or leased collectively, allowing for cheaper rents. As well as offering a cheaper way of living, student housing cooperatives offer a chance for students to learn new skills through the management of their own housing, often complementing their degree. This is something I would have loved to have had the chance to get involved in whilst at university. At a national level it is really encouraging to hear that there are currently discussions in place about the feasibility of creating a National Body of Student Cooperatives to help scale the concept.
Sheffield and Birmingham Student Cooperatives
In both Sheffield and Birmingham student housing coops have recently been developed. The model they follow is similar to that of a shared student house but they offer added security due to the houses being purchased for the coop’s purpose. Both coops take the form of a detached house purchased by the Cooperative Phone and Mobile a social enterprise and cooperative which as well as providing phone and mobile services aims to support other cooperatives and social enterprises across the UK through investment. After purchasing the properties they lease them to groups of students who then take on full management of the coop.
After my own experiences of today’s turbulent housing market where landlords seem to buy and sell properties recklessly without much regard for their tenants the fact the property is owned in line with cooperative principals seems to offer the students increased stability.
Edinburgh Student Cooperative
The Edinburgh Student Cooperative which began in 2014 works slightly differently to the Sheffield and Birmingham models due to its larger size (106 members) meaning it is more similar to student halls, offering a way for students to recreate the halls lifestyle beyond their first year.
The coop was started by a group of Edinburgh based students who decided it was time to take control of their housing needs. With the support of Edinburgh University the group of students managed to convince Castle Rock Edinvar, one of Edinburgh’s largest housing associations, to lease them an empty building, formerly a Napier University student halls. The lease of the building which includes 24 flats and 106 bedrooms was negotiated so that payments would begin only once student rents had been collected, making the scheme more manageable for the students. Taking a £100 deposit from each member meant the coop had initial cash flow to renovate the property and initial finance was also gained from Co-operative and Community Finance. The fact the coop offered the cheapest student accommodation in Edinburgh meant that the 106 rooms were soon filled!
Today the coop continues to thrive with regular meetings where members contribute to its management as well as activities such as shared meals, crepe parties and concerts, offering a real community atmosphere.
Hopefully, the success of student cooperatives such as Edinburgh, Sheffield and Birmingham will allow more students to discover the potential of the approach to access better housing and a more community based way of life. Clearly the support of the Cooperative Phone and Mobile and the negotiations between Castle Rock Edinvar and students were indispensable in aiding these students to create their own housing solutions. However, more should be done to allow students to finance as well as manage their housing solutions. With thousands of students facing unaffordable rents in the UK there is great scope to further develop student coops.
Find out more and tell me more!
If you would like to find out more and get involved a good place to start is through the Students for Cooperation federation or if you know of any ways to learn more about student coops around the world let me know!
After discovering the world of student housing coops I am now on a mission to champion young people’s innovative housing solutions to highlight how young people can stop being victims of Britain’s housing crisis. If you or anyone you know is involved in creating exciting and different housing solutions for young people both in the UK and Internationally I would love to hear from you! I will also be writing some more blogs on the theme of young people so if you are interested in this area or are working with/living in innovative young peoples housing let me know!
You can contact me at kathryn.sutter [at] www.world-habitat.org.
Feature image (Members of the Birmingham student cooperative) credit: Gary Creese Media Services