The first student housing co-op in south-east England had just secured its first property and is getting ready to accept its first residents in September.
Brighton & Hove Community Land Trust (BHCLT) has bought the property, which will be taken up on a seven-year lease by SEASALT (South-East Students Autonomously Living Together) housing co-op.
SEASALT is the fifth project in the UK to establish a co-operative model of homes for students, collectively managed and at affordable rents.
The student housing co-op movement is aimed at offering an alternative to the private rental market, offering lower rents and better-quality accommodation. They are designed to allow tenants to pool their resources to create community-style homes where everyone collaborates for mutual benefit. The rent paid is only used to cover the upkeep of the house (lease, bills, repairs, etc.) and not to enrich landlords.
The project comes against a backdrop of increasing difficulty in the student housing market. Brighton University lecturer Rebecca Searle has warned: “High rents are causing significant inequalities in education. Those students whose families are able to support them are able to devote considerably more time to their studies then those who are having to work long hours to cover their rents.”
Responsibility for maintenance and long-term plans for the new property is shared between the two organisations, with SEASALT having full autonomy in the day-to-day running, membership of the co-operative and the life of the community. Both organisations have made commitments to prioritising energy efficiency and environmental sustainability in the use of the home.
SEASALT are also looking to be good neighbours: as a group that feels strongly about the importance of community, they will allow their members to stay for the duration of their studies plus a year after graduation. This will give them the opportunity to build relationships with their neighbours and escape short-term tenancies that students and the community around them find disruptive.
Each new member will sign up to SEASALT’s community promise and not wanting to take up family housing was the main driver behind the group looking for larger properties.
Principle six – co-operation among co-ops – has also come into play, with support from Brighton’s community pub, the Bevy – who said: “The Bevy as a community-owned pub is a great example of how an area can really benefit from collective ownership. We are excited about working with Seasalt and helping the students become a real part of the wider Moulsecoomb community.”
Funding to buy the property was secured through a mortgage from Ecology Building Society, and a successful community share offer which raised £336,200 from over 140 investors. The plan is to buy a second property in two to three years, creating more homes that will be out of private ownership and affordable, secure and sustainable in the long term.
Jon Lee, who leads on Ecology Building Society’s support for community and co-operative housing, said: “As a longstanding supporter of co-operative housing we were delighted to be asked to support Brighton and Hove Community Land Trust’s partnership with SEASALT to deliver affordable, energy efficient and quality rental accommodation for students.
Ecology specialises in supporting projects which respect the environment and enable sustainable communities and has pioneered innovative 40-year mortgages for housing co-operatives, helping to maintain rents at affordable levels.
“As a member-owned mutual ourselves, it’s fantastic to be part of this ground-breaking project which we hope will pave the way for many more co-operative student housing schemes throughout the UK.”
The problems with student accommodation are endemic of the wider issues with the housing market in this country. SEASALT said: “As young people, we have grown up in a country where the impacts of the financial crash, resulting austerity and a profit driven neoliberal system have disproportionately impacted disadvantaged communities, including us. The mass sell-off of public land and unequal land ownership have given rise to a financialised housing market with accommodation and rent prices spiralling faster than inflation.
“For students, these issues are only enhanced as landlords and letting agents look to exploit our inexperience and precarious, insecure situations, frequently to make maximum profit for minimum effort. This means that student accommodation often exemplifies the worst aspects of housing in this country. Thus, it is very difficult to break the yearly cycle of renting with private landlords who usually have no incentive to improve student living conditions or tackle big issues such as the carbon emissions and accessibility of their housing stock.
“By empowering our students to take control of their accommodation, we have taken the first steps towards building a fairer and more equal future across Brighton and Hove, putting the needs of our local community first. So, not only do we want to provide affordable, sustainable and democratic solutions to housing, we also want to demonstrate how co-ops and the co-operative economy can help solve the big issues of our time. This could include climate change and sustainability, wealth and land inequality, democratising our economy or, of course, our housing crisis. That’s how we fit into the bigger picture, because after all, if we a small group of students can make big change in our community, why can’t you?”
Janet Crome, director of BHCLT, added: “We have really enjoyed working with these inspiring students, who have given so much passion and time to the project, even though some of them may not live in the house themselves. We look forward to a long and fruitful and enjoyable partnership with them and watching them thrive.”