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