Author Archives: Becka

The Housing Act Remains a Threat

by Glyn Robbins,  from Unite housing workers, Defend Council Housing and ‘Axe the Housing Act’

The partial U-turn on ‘Pay to Stay’ is very welcome, but it’s not enough.  The Housing and Planning Act remains a threat and must be repealed.  Instead of imposing rent hikes on council tenants themselves, the government is letting local authorities do it instead!  We must be very wary of councils using the legislation to fill funding gaps and push out tenants they think should be paying more for their home.  The same applies to housing associations (HAs), so-called ‘social’ landlords the Act is enabling to behave even more like private developers.

The delay in extending the Right to Buy to HA tenants – and therefore the envisaged sell-off of empty ‘high value’ council homes – is further evidence that the ill-conceived Act is falling apart.

But until the Act is axed, there’s still the danger that thousands of social rented homes will be lost, at a time when we need thousands more.  Although the Tories have done some back-tracking on Starter Homes, they still want them to replace genuinely affordable homes on new developments.  Likewise, the statement announcing the retreat on Pay to Stay indicates that the government will push harder to abolish secure tenancies for future council tenants – a massive threat to the stability of working class communities.  More council estates are still at risk of being broken-up by being re-designated as ‘brownfield’ sites.

But the fact that the government’s housing policy ‘flag ship’ is sinking is testament to the accumulated pressure of a united, concerted campaign against it.  Certainly, other issues have been factors, not least Brexit.  But this weak, divided government isn’t ready to take on the opposition to the Act, either inside or outside Parliament.  It’s announced a housing White Paper before Christmas, a sure sign – along with the concessions in yesterday’s Autumn Statement – that it’s feeling the heat on housing.

With the Tories’ housing policy in disarray, it’s vital that campaigners develop a real alternative.  That’s why the Axe the Housing Act alliance has produced its own Autumn Statement.  Even if the entire Act was dropped tomorrow, we’d still have a massive housing crisis, the product of an ideology that sees a home as a commodity.  We need to unite around the core demands of controlled rent and secure homes for all and build a broad, cross-tenure movement to demand a fundamental change in housing policy.

 

Gyms, tiny rooms and massive rent – what we learned about student housing at MIPIM.

by Pearl Ahrens, UCL Cut the Rent

While some of us were outside MIPIM asking delegates to Give Us Back Our Fucking Rent!, others were inside seeing what deals were being done, what people were saying – and what’s going to happen to housing in this country.

Private rental sector and excusing higher rents.

“[We’ll see a] total convergence in real estate generally of housing and the rental sector, of life, work and play not as separate sectors”.

This, according to Matt Yeoman, Director BuckleyGrayYeoman, is the direction of travel for the private rental sector (PRS). He was speaking on a panel about the ‘Future of student housing’.

The upshot of this panel? The future of the PRS is about an increasing similarity with hotels and the hospitality industry. Making renting not about just having a place to live, but about providing a whole inclusive life-experience from the apartment block. This will have a knock-on effect on the private student accommodation sector, and that in turn will impact university-owned halls.

Property providers know the housing crisis is something they have created – Bruce Ritchie, CEO at Residential Land spoke of the “frustration of aspiring young people… most people know where they want to live, it’s just whether they can afford it”. And so, they reap the benefits of their own actions by renting instead of selling, by using the provision of extra services as an excuse to raise rents even further. In the private rental sector, ‘affordable’ doesn’t mean affordable. Affordable Rent means “subject to rent controls that require a rent of no more than 80% of the local market rent (including service charges, where applicable)”[1]

End of halls

Students who don’t get into university-owned halls end up in the private rental sector – a far cry from the ‘halls experience’ where they meet their friends and have the traditional first year of university. Phillip Hillman, chair of JLL UK Alternatives, sees this as a gap in the “immature” private rental market which private student accommodation is filling. For providers, private student accommodation is a great investment – it’s like the fast-growing private rental sector but with a more stable, Brexit-resilient stream of available tenants. Again, the idea is to provide lots of hospitality and built-in services – group study spaces, gyms etc. and cut back on everything else. That students can’t afford these premium apartments is a nuisance providers get around – according to Richard Gabelich, CEO at UK Campus Living Villages (CLV) with this “big focus on affordability, you can get away with smaller bedrooms if you’ve got great study space”. Companies like Richard’s are taking advantage of this opportunity at an extraordinary rate – the proportion of student accommodation administered by private providers went from 18% in 2006 to 41% in 2015/16.[2]. The trend towards providing other services also exists here, as Matt Yeoman said at the panel – “It’s entirely hospitality driven. [If not, it] will fail. [If we keep] upping the bar, [we] will be fine”

This drift towards hospitality ventures means private student accomodation, with these stark takeover rates, are ‘leading’ the way.  “Every PRS scheme we are working on feels like student housing eight to ten years ago”, Yeoman also said.

The problem with all this isn’t simply the provision of social spaces. It’s the social spaces being offered as a ‘luxury option’ and the hike in rents which this necessarily entails. This increase in rent is supposedly legitimised by the expansion of the provision of services, though there’s nothing to stop private student accommodation providers raising the rents to a price above and beyond what it costs to provide those services, and way above and beyond what most students can afford before they are forced to live in dire poverty.

How this relates to universities.

On the part of the universities, it’s difficult to provide enough spaces for all their students in the halls they own, and with gross underfunding from the government, the halls’ rents seem like the perfect source of income, ready and available to tap.The mere existence of private student accommodation allows universities like UCL to excuse their extortionate rents, driving up prices in all accommodation. For example, UCL over-prices all its accommodation to make a surplus which they plough back into the UCL Estates pot. While ‘higher quality means higher price’ attitude of private student accommodation providers is to be expected, one would expect better of universities, considering their duty to students.

If universities were properly funded by the government they wouldn’t have to scrape the pockets of their students to find research funding. However, with talk of lifting the £9000 cap, and with top unis like UCL actively lobbying for less funding from the government, it’s unlikely that they will be adequately funded any time soon. UCL’s former Provost Malcolm Grant was quoted advocating lifting the then £3000 cap all the way back in 2006, so to think that lifting the (now £9000) cap on tuition fees is a sustainable or just solution to funding problems is absurd.

Some of the time, universities and private providers work directly together – in public-private partnerships. The trick of underfunding the public sector until it needs to be ‘saved’ by the private one is at play here, and was acknowledged by the panel. Hillman said that underfunded universities run halls with “half [of student accommodation] well below the standard that universities say is desirable, and the universities have no money, [so] they look to the private sector”. Gabelich, too is fully aware of the difficult situation the government put universities in. He mentioned how the cap on tuition fees is generating funding worries for universities, so private student accomodation provides “an avenue in which they can get capital from the private sector to invest in other areas (like research)… universities are cottoning on more and more to that”.

[1] http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/policy/achieving-sustainable-development/annex-2-glossary/

[2] http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/resources/nus-unipol-accommodation-costs-survey-2015

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/student-judges-student-accomodation-awards_uk_580f0d40e4b0f479c0d79810

For the right to housing and the city!

Check out the latest bulletin from the European Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City, a group that Radical Housing Network are involved in.

RHN delegates are heading to Dublin for the next of the coalition’s meetings this months, so keep your eyes peeled for an update from their meeting on housing organising across Europe!

Student Housing – the facts

Check out our infographic on the reality of student housing. No wonder grads had to ask MIPIM delegates for spare change, or camp out in Unite’s offices.

MIPIM Occupied!

Students demand ‘Give Us Back Our Fucking Rent’ and occupy student housing provider as controversial property fair returns to London

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Students staged two eye-catching protests on 19th October against the growing ‘financialisation’ and unaffordability of student housing, at the MIPIM property fair in London. The actions were called by the Radical Housing Network and RENT STRIKE!, an organisation which has grown out of the successful UCL student rent strike this year.

Students in gowns and mortar boards accosted property investors and developers outside the conference centre, with charity buckets and t-shirts demanding: “Give Us Our Fucking Rent Back“. Students, angry about the effects of big finance on their homes, approached unsuspecting delegates and asked for contributions to a hardship fund.

Elsewhere, near the University of London, students occupied the sales offices of private student housing provider Unite Students, taking control of the building with tents and banners, chanting “If we can’t afford our rent, we’ll use your offices instead.” This action was part of the rapidly escalating rent strike campaign, coordinated by the collective Rent Strike, which at UCL succeeded in securing well over £1 million in rent subsidies for students from the university last academic year. The rampant privatisation of student accommodation is pushing students into poverty: as student debt is sky-rocketing, a crisis of mental health is taking its toll amongst young people.

Unite Students are taking up an increasing share of the student property market (currently 70% of Kings College accommodation is owned by Unite). In 2015, Unite Students made £355 million profit while charging up to £353/week for their halls.

The property fair, notorious for dodgy deals between councils and developers, returned for the third year to London, from 19-21 October. Previous years have seen extensive community opposition, with clashes between protestors and police.

The protests focussed on the ‘financialisation’ of student housing. Student halls, traditionally provided by Universities, have become increasingly privatised. They are now a highly sought after asset for investors, with £5.2 billion invested in the sector in just the first five months of 2015, the majority from North America.
Research by the NUS suggests that the effect of this has been to push prices rapidly upwards, with the average student halls costing 95% of a student loan:

  • Students are left with on average £851 annually for food, living costs and academic expenses
  • The average rent for a studio (bed-sit) in student halls is £1212 per month, significantly above student loan value
  • The average rent for student housing rose 97% between 2002/3 – 2012/13

A spokesperson for the Radical Housing Network said:
“MIPIM represents a housing system that puts an obsession with profit over people’s right to a decent home. The UK is currently in the midst of an acute housing crisis, and yet MIPIM and the system it props up benefits only the global rich, while destroying our communities, and pushing ever more people into housing hardship.

“For as long as our towns and cities are being carved up over champagne and caviar, we will be here, saying no to MIPIM, yes to housing justice!”

A spokesperson for Rent Strike! said:
“The financialisation of student housing is pushing more and more students into poverty and hardship. Student halls are now international assets traded by financiers, and are no longer the affordable places to live we need while we get an education.

As MIPIM returns to London, we decided to spoil the show, demanding: give us back our fucking rent!”

These actions were taken in coalition with housing groups across Europe in a month of action throughout October. The European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City is coordinating action in ten cities across the continent.

Notes

  •    MIPIM UK is taking place at Kensington Olympia on 19-21 October
  •    NUS’s report on the unaffordability of student housing is here
  •    Information on the student housing sector can be found in this report by Savills
  •    The Radical Housing Network is a coalition of community groups fighting for housing justice in London
  •    Rent Strike! is a student organisation working to build resistance to unaffordable housing
  •     The  European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City is a coalition of groups in 17 countries across Europe fighting financialisation and evictions.

MIPIM – Give us back our f***ing rent!

by Harriet Vickers, Housing Action Greenwich and Lambeth, Katya Nasim and Becka Hudson, Radical Housing Network @radicalhousing  

We’re in the midst of a global housing crisis – and MIPIM is the command centre. A motley crew of private developers, speculators, politicians and councils gathered today in West London at property show MIPIM, only to be met by graduates holding collection boxes, saying ‘Give Us Our F****ing Rent Back!’, just one of the eye catching protests for housing justice that took place across the city.

MIPIM is an exclusive marketplace where public land and property that should be used to provide truly affordable homes is secretly sold off – or even given away. With a ticket price of £500, and with many deals being done around champagne-laden dinner tables few people know exactly what is said between universities and investors. When these deals do become public the consequences are stark with private halls costing students an average of £1212 a month – more than their student loan.

With a session entitled ‘Student Housing: Coming of Age’, our efforts this year focus on the ‘financialisation’ of student housing.

It is becoming routine that people who want to get an education in the UK must accept living in poverty whilst private companies bloat their rent and rake in millions a year.

Student halls are now prime investment opportunities, with £5.2 billion invested in the sector in just the first five months of 2015. Universities are acquiescing to this – selling so much accommodation that private landlords now make up 41% of all student housing provision and, as negotiated at events like MIPIM, this number is rising.

Whilst investors profit from the land-giveaway, ordinary people are being evicted, priced out of their communities, forced to live in poverty and made to live on the streets. Here’s why we protested MIPIM and what it means for students…

1.If the dodgy deals at MIPIM continue, only the very richest students will be able to get an education:

NUS research shows that the average student halls use up 95% of a student loan, leaving students with small amounts of cash to cover all living expenses, including food, clothes, travel and books. If student housing continues to be sold off at MIPIM, the only people who will be able to survive in higher education will be the richest people who can easily access significant extra financial support.

2. MIPIM is anti-democratic and unaccountable, and it makes student housing just like it: Over half of all universities don’t consult with students when setting rents, and almost half have no policies on supporting low income students with their rent. As they sell off housing to private companies with no accountability to students, these problems only gets worse, narrowing the scope for students to have their say and leaving them shut out of decisions that can drive them into poverty.

3.MIPIM means housing is bought only to be left empty. There are nearly 60,000 empty homes in London while almost 50,000 households are homeless, relying on temporary accommodation such as B&Bs. The number of young people sleeping rough in the capital has doubled in the last five years and the number of rough sleepers as a whole is higher than ever. Squatters and council tenants with a spare bedroom face sanction – while investors are free to leave their properties empty, waiting for the price to rise.

4.Developers say they’re giving students choice, when they are forcing them into poverty: At the moment, students are left with an average of £851 a year to spend on all living expenses after rent. Private accommodation already costs more than university owned alternatives. The more halls sold to private investors at MIPIM, the less money students will have to survive.

5.MIPIM means housing is used for greed, not need. The international property fair began over 25 years ago, and now meets regularly in Cannes, Japan and London. Investors buy up public land of all stripes for developments not intended as homes, but as piggy-banks for multinational investors.

There is an alternative. The anti-MIPIM demo was organised by the Radical Housing Network and UCL Cut The Rent.

The first is a network that brings together over 30 grassroots groups to demand that housing is a right not a privilege, and to fight against social cleansing and for decent homes for all. UCL Cut The Rent are the campaign for lower rent at University College London, whose success with rent strikes this year is galvanising cut the rent campaigns with students across the country.

Today, we forced delegates to face those affected by the housing crisis they are creating.

Today’s demo is part of a housing movement that’s building across Europe, linked to The European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City. Trade unionists, tenants, campaigners and students are coming together, join us to ensure no people are without homes, and no homes are without people.