A national body of student housing co-operatives is needed to help build the movement, say campaigners.
The UK has three student housing co-ops – in Edinburgh, Birmingham and Sheffield – with over 120 students self-managing their accommodation in a bid to create a cost-effective solution to high rents and poor management.
Students for Cooperation, which represents student co-ops in the UK, says this is an achievement but there is still “a real need to expand the network and begin acquiring properties”.
The co-ops currently have commercial leases on their properties with supportive organisations, the Phone Co-op and Castle Rock Edinvar housing association. Students for Cooperation says actual ownership of properties will allow the network to build the capital needed to buy larger properties and expand to different cities.
It says there is already interest from universities in Nottingham, East Anglia, Leeds, Newcastle and Exeter, but new student housing co-ops face significant hurdles.
These include limited access to finance; lack of experience; high turnover of membership and issues of continuity; a lack of support; lack of specific student co-operative company rules; lack of co-operative specific student tenancy agreements; and property prices.
Students for Cooperation commissioned a report from Acorn Co-operative Support on the feasibility of a national body to tackle these problems. The report was created in consultation with existing and prospective student co-ops, support organisations and potential lending institutions.
It proposes the body take the form of a secondary co-operative, made up of student housing co-ops, which would access finance to purchase property freeholds.
Equity would come from existing co-operatives and the new body would benefit from having experienced co-operators on its board of directors.
Students for Cooperation is seeking £20,000 of seed funding for the legal work of drafting new lease and tenancy agreements, model rules and incorporation.
The money would also pay for a network co-ordinator who would support the housing co-ops, look at houses for purchase and co-ordinate membership meetings to ensure democratic participation.
“Unlocking investment through the national body will allow us to establish new student housing co-operatives across the UK where students request our help, on an ever larger scale,” said Scott Jennings of Students for Cooperation.
“Students are facing the squeeze from for-profit landlords, university halls and larger private accommodation companies. Levels of rent in some places are outstripping maintenance loans and quality of accommodation in student areas is a universal problem around the UK.
“We want to grow the true alternative to the current status quo and show that co-operatives and co-operative principles are the way forward to benefit not just students but the wider community.”
- Over £4,000 has already been raised, and the organisation has applied to the Aviva Community Fund for the remaining cost. To find out more, and support their bid, click here.