During the pandemic numerous independent student-led rent strikes sprang up across the UK in protest against rip-off landlords and excessive housing costs for students. The idea of paying over-the-top prices for accommodation that they couldn’t use during extended lock-downs was the final straw. But what next? A few students are taking matters in to their own hands and setting up housing co-op’s. They set their own rents and make their own decisions about who they’ll live with and what they’ll do to the house.
Managing your own housing co-op with a group is empowering. A power that can be carried through life. In my blog ten days to save Tir Cyffredin Housing Co-op I talked about the powerful difference living in a housing co-op made to my life. I lived in them in my mid-twenties, early thirties and mid-forties. And each time they came at the right moment for me. Pushing me on for the next stage in life.
So what’s not to like? The extra work-load is not for everyone, and setting housing co-ops from scratch can take months of admin, fundraising, member finding and learning on a very steep curve. Not necessarily what you can do when you’re just starting University, learning how to live away from home and just living. That’s why some groups are working with larger community organisations with paid staff who can do some of the heavy lifting and community engagement to get projects off-the ground and provide financing.
The community organisation can own the house or houses and lease it/them to the housing co-op. This leverages community support whilst giving students the autonomy they need to make their own decisions. Housing co-ops rarely fail but if one did for any reason the community organisation would own the house and be able to offer it to another housing co-op or in the worse case scenario sell it and give the community investors their money back.
This is the model used by Student Co-op Homes in England and most recently delivered by SEASALT Housing Co-op in Brighton, a city with a notorious shortage of affordable rentals. There’s no doubt this is a long-term project but student housing co-op’s are very common in countries like Canada so we know that it can work, given the right attention. That’s why we have invited Simin Wadiwala from SEASALT and Student Co-op Homes and Andy Woodcock from Catalyst Collective to share their knowledge at our Co-op’s Night event on October 20.
This event has the potential to kick start something completely new so please share the info if you know or are a student. It’s organised as part of the Wales Co-operative’s Community Led Housing Festival (Oct 18-21). Let people know. If you want to advocate for student housing co-op’s then come along too. We need allies to move this forward. Diolch yn fawr!