Thursday, 13 August 2009

Marching Into The Studentland

I remember student halls of residence fondly for torrential water fights, utilitarian fittings and superhuman livers. Nowadays however halls are positively bleak. They are also expensive. A friend’s student flat was made of bare cinder blocks and I’ve seen plans for another which is basically a random pile of Portacabins.

Student flats are so small I wonder if it’s all some kind of elaborate joke. There’s one narrow single bed - as you know, students are famously celibate for religious reasons - a tiny en-suite shower room, a desk, and well, that’s it. What about storing books, linen, clothes, and other general stuff?

Some private landlords are heroes, but the worst examples treat students with outright disdain. Most scholars are young and excited to be living independently for the first time. They are optimistic and accept the shabby state of the property, although a broken heater in September seems more important when December comes.

Some houses are so bad you’d think the Young Ones was a documentary. Owners rent out hovels, knowing they won’t make get as much money, but won’t have to do any repairs. They don’t reckon on parents. Do not mess with articulate, protective, litigious parents. They are fierce.

Rigsby-ite owners assume they can cheat and fleece students, ignoring the Deposit Protection Scheme or docking money for minor misdemeanours. One landlord even tried to charge a back-dated retainer on a house we’d moved into in the autumn. Nice try.

Neighbours argue that students destroy their community, having moved for the old style houses or peace and quiet, not parties, gigs and poster sales. Students, meanwhile counter that they need to live somewhere.

It’s not their fault, but students are a beacon for crime. Criminals think they own computers, drugs, loads of lovely cash and consumer items, and landlords can put burglar alarms low down on the list of importance.

Studentland is quiet in May (exams) but noisy in June (parties!) Outside of term time, it’s a wasteland. One friend watched the value of his home tumble, and then the accompanying theft and mugging rates made the streets a no-go. He was beaten up on his own doorstep, and moved away.

Buses are so plentiful that diesel smog chokes your lungs and obstructs the view. Then come July they all migrate in herds like Wildebeest back to the depot, where they stay grazing until September. Mind you, for those no longer in the first flush of youth, it’s a compliment to be asked at the bus-stop what course you are on.

Student zones are coalmine canaries, indicating where the next up and coming area will be, usually full of large cheap family homes, unrenovated, with intact original features (and a smell of stale weed and pizzas).

One neighbourhood in Edinburgh campaigned against the transient nature of its student population, which they claimed discouraged any sense of community. The students offered to organise a street party for the grumpy neighbours, who were long past the stage of swigging BOGOF Frascati from the bottle with a fag end bobbing about, but it’s the thought that counts.


Neil80 said...

There are two Uni's in my City both with seperate zones of housing. Within each zone the percentage of student houses compared to owner occupiers rises year on year as one by one long established residents put out the for sale signs and take the landlord dollar. The sad thing is what was once a great example of a functioning, mixed, dverse community has become student ghetto with all it's associated problems. Landlords with little interest in the appearence of the property means that properties and gardens start to look run down, there are high levels of noise, vandalism and crime associated with transient populations with no stakeholding in the community. The remaining families and owner occupiers move out. The cycle entrenches itself and the area spreads.

The local MP has campaigned for legislation to give local authourities more powers to control absentee landlord properties but it seems to be a long shot. In the meantime a 3-4 bedroom victorian semi with a few reception rooms which could also be turned into bedrooms will always be more valuable as a student house.

RenterGirl said...

I know, but sometimes the opposite happens: people re-appraise the area. Some local councils have met with landlords groups to try and stop the blanket studentification of neighbourhoods. Usually though, this happens when a downtrodden area is snapped for cheap rented HMO's. Where are students going to live? Families needing rented homes can't find housing as it used for HMO's. All those empty newbuilds would be ideal. But that would mean another area chock full of students.

Neil80 said...

teI think the key is diversity. Too many student houses in one area leads to all the problems associated with a transient population and as you point out there are some real issues with families being unable to rent homes.

I think in the case of my city what the local MP, who's constituency incorporates two student-zones, was calling for, the giving of more powers to the council to control numbers of HMOs would be problematic as it could see the pendulum swing the other way as local politicians pander to NIMBYism in all but the most neglected areas.

My soloution would be to make the universities themselves take more responsibility. Universities should be required, like developers are with travel plans, to carry out impact assessments on the housing stock in the community. They should employ Housing Officers who are responsible for dealing with tenancy-issues and to act as a liaison with the community and local authourities.It feels as if at present Uni's shirk their responsibility to their host communities when it comes tothe impact of increasing student numbers.

RenterGirl said...

The universities usually have tenancy liason officers. And it's not just students. I have heard of streets colonised with buy-to-let HMO's housing young professionals where weekends can be hellish for older residents, or those who work shifts. It's about consideration. But the summer time bleakness is a problem. And in term time it's about noise. A middle way is needed.

RenterGirl said...

BTW: is nobody else as shocked as I am about the cost and state of specially designed housing allocated for students? Some of those blocks are nasty.

Adam G said...

The only student build I'm really familiar with is Macmillan (Greenwich). I stayed there for about a year.

As accomodation goes, it was broadly reasonable. By that I mean it was of a pretty mediocre standard, but the price was low for the area. Security was poor, but I don't remember any serious incidents. The design was nothing to shout about; I get the impression they have a standard build that they plunk down wherever needed, as though housing was delivered by space aliens.

That said, when I was a student the first time around, I'd cheerfully have murdered for something like it: a private room with en-suite, small kitchen, broadband ready, with halfway decent sound baffling.

I've worked for other London unis since then and the impression I've taken away is, their student accomodation is a thousand times worse. Usually it's because it was built in the 50's, poorly maintained, and forced to go well beyond its capacity limits. Unis are rarely cash-rich, and they've got a lot of spending issues. Housing is often low on their list of priorities.

RenterGirl said...

The really bad ones are privately built and run.

Neil80 said...

True. There is definately a few years overlap between student and young proffesional. I should know!

la glitz said...

I am going to be a heretic and say that I approve of the UK government suggestion that students who live at home while studying could get a fees rebate. I'm not convinced that the current system, whereby middle-class parents knock about in a family house suddenly too big for them, while their student children travel halfway across the country to trash another family home, is an efficient use of housing stock. Or indeed of student loan money.

RenterGirl said...

La Glitz, I disagree. Staying at home isn't always possible: with divorced parents for example, or where staying means sleeping and working in a tiny room shared with a much younger sibling (modern houses have tiny box-rooms.) It also infantilises the young adults studying. And, well students borrow money which they pay back - if they spend it on studying in a different city, isn't that their call? And what if there is no suitable course, or uni close by, or your local seat of learning won't give you a place? Whatever: private student are horrible and a rip off. Usually...

la glitz said...

RenterGirl - only just remembered this thread! You make very valid points, and I'll add another argument to them - living at home often means having to stay in the closet for gay students.

Nonetheless, wouldn't it be a good idea if students had the option to take the loan for fees or not, depending on whether or not it was right for their particular situation to stay at home? One of the really important things your blog says, as I understand it, is that monolithic one-size-fits-all solutions to housing lead to disaster, and I think the same is true of student housing. Students, and parents of students, should have as many housing options as possible, no?