Students launch national co-op housing body to tackle broken market

Student Co-op Homes, a national body, aims to address problems within the student housing sector

Student housing co-ops from across the UK are joining together to form Student Co-op Homes, a national body that aims to address problems within the housing sector.

Students currently own and manage houses or halls of residence in Edinburgh, Sheffield and Birmingham. Other groups of students across the country are looking at setting up similar schemes. Rents at student housing co-ops can be up to 30% cheaper than the equivalent student housing options available on the market.

According to research by the National Union of Students (NUS) around 62% of students use loans to help pay rent and only half of these think their accommodation is value for money.

Student Co-op Homes plans to increase the national capacity of student housing co-ops from 150 to 10,000 beds within the next five years.

Mike Shaw, a founding member of Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative, explained how the co-ops worked: “There is no landlord – we are the landlords. We are in charge. We are democratically run by our members. We provide better quality housing and we are able to bring costs right down to offer cheaper housing.”

Students of Edinburgh Student Housing Co-op pay £75 per week for their rent compared to average student rents of £112 per week. Similarly, in Birmingham the student housing co-ops is 10% cheaper than the average equivalent.

“Not only is it cheaper but the money you’re paying is going towards the upkeep of the house which leads to a much higher quality of accommodation,” added Mr Shaw.

The new body was set up with support from Students for Co-operation (the national federation of student co-operatives) and Co-operatives UK.

Being the UK’s largest student-run housing co-operative, Edinburgh Student Housing Co-op is home to 106 members. Hannah Bischof, originally from Germany, is one of them. In Germany she lived in a house that was managed based on principles similar to the co-operative ones. She thinks that having more buildings owned by student housing co-ops would give them a great chance to reinvest the rent money back into the building and its facilities.

Scott Jennings, board member of Students for Co-operation, said: “The current student housing market is broken. For too long the private rental sector has got away with steadily increasing rents for poorer quality student housing.

“Everyone we speak to is so inspired by the idea of student housing co-ops but access is so limited. Until now we’ve not had enough investment in this area so that students can access this sort of living whilst at university.

“The establishment of Student Co-op Homes is essential to the growth of this sector. We have one point of investment, we have a plan. We can buy in batches around the country and we can grow. We can actually take on the landlords and the problem system that we are living under.”

The UK’s first student housing co-op was set up in Birmingham in 2014. The co-op is renting the property from the Phone Co-op, which purchased it on their behalf.

Member Robyn Foley, who has been living there for eight months, said: “The low price of rent is attractive, but what is also attractive is the do-it-yourself approach and the ability to improve things.

“I have had a positive experience with being LGBT in the co-op movement – people have been really acceptant. So this relates to my physical and mental health, which can be affected by it. Other people would agree as well.”

Neil Turton, chief operating officer and champion of student co-op housing at Co-operatives UK, added: “Students are poor consumers of housing. While they know they are being ripped off by landlords, they do not study or live in one place for long enough to effect changes.

“Co-operatives UK is excited to be at the forefront – developing cheaper and better quality student housing across the UK. This is a key aspect of the National Co-op Development Strategy, launched last year, which sees ‘replication’ as a significant development opportunity for the co-op sector.

“By incubating Student Co-op Homes we will drive the growth of student co-op housing for the benefit of current university students, and for those in decades to come.”

The idea follows a similar model that has been working in the United States for decades through the North American Students of Co-operation (NASCO), which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Other students are looking to develop similar projects. In Glasgow a group of young people have incorporated as a student housing co-operative. They have already completed a survey on the property they want to buy and are putting together a loan stock offer.

Jo McQuaid, who has been involved in the initiative for four months, says the co-op is already getting applications from students, adding: “Student housing co-ops are really exciting because they are not only cheaper, but the autonomy makes you think your house is your home.”

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