Problems with student housing, and student integration into communities
With particular reference to Leeds (UK).
From the point of view of a student: We're polite, we inject liveliness and large amounts of money into university
towns, and we aren't prone to committing crime (when's the last time you met a street robber who was studying for a BA on the side). In popular student localities, we pay inflated rent to unscrupulous landlords for poor quality housing. And in these burglary hotspots we live in constant fear of getting our laptops nicked by shady locals.
Mandy Telford, president of the NUS, cites 16 percent of houses having reported vermin infestations, 40 percent damp and mould and a figure of ten deaths since 1992 caused by Carbon Monoxide. But we quietly put up with these problems – after all, we're not staying in the city long.
And who gets the blame for the shoddy housing, inflated rents and high crime rate in student areas? Us, the victims! We are the unwanted guests. The townsfolk complain that every shop is a takeaway or a letting agent (or a shop selling takeaway or landlord supplies). They complain that we are inconsiderate neighbours who make too much noise, drop litter in the street and don't put the bins out on the right day (this seems to be the number one whinge for some reason).
They blame us for attracting criminals, for driving up house prices and for leaving them with no sense of community.
Leeds and Nottingham are two cities in the UK that have suffered in particular from these sorts of issues, due to being Britain's most popular student towns and having campuses located in the middle of the respective cities. Students are exploited by bad landlords, or are the victims of poor planning policy, and this leads to resentment from locals. In Leeds, Headingley and Hyde Park, in the postcode of LS6, are the most popular student areas. Sixty-one percent of Headingley's population is students, and in some streets there are no houses that aren't occupied by students. Headingley Against Landlordism is an organisation that purports to be campaigning to various authorities for better planning, and ask students 'not to feel got at'. The fact is, however, they scorn student efforts to integrate with the community – all they want is less students, and further away from Headingley. They explicitly reject the idea that students
could be seen as proper residents. The fact is, they are grumpy, insular and anti-student. But there is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Improving housing standards
We can look at the problems faced by students and the problems faced by the community as a whole as part of the same issue.
As students, we suffer from the poor standard of housing that exists in student areas. It is tempting to simply put up with it, as many leave the city after three years. However, if the standard can be raised, students will benefit, and long term residents of the same localities will too.
One of the main problems faced is landlords withholding deposits at the end of the tenancy for no good reason. Recovering your deposit can be a difficult process if the landlord makes up a spurious reason for keeping it or is simply evasive about giving it back. In 2000 the government piloted a Tenancy Deposit Scheme whereby an independent body is in charge of your deposit. The problem was, the scheme was voluntary, while other countries are operating successful mandatory schemes, something the NUS is calling for in Britain. The NUS also wants more regulation in terms of licensing. Currently, Houses of Multiple Occupancy need to be licensed if they hold five or more people, but this leaves out the great number of people that live in households of four, for example.
Many universities run landlord accreditation schemes. Students in Leeds can get some reassurance by choosing a landlord who is certified by an organisation called Unipol. Supported by the main universities in Leeds and their student unions, it accredits landlords who sign up to a Code of Practice. Houses are subject to random checks but ensuring all registered housing does actually meet the criteria is too big a job for Unipol – and there is a question of how effective the scheme is at addressing issues if they do arise with your house. And it does not solve the problem for those students who aren't wise enough to rent from Unipol registered landlords.
If you're a student, the best thing you can do is to know your rights, rent from a reliable landlord and don't simply allow them to get away with ripping you off.
Improving student relations with the community
This is, to a great extent, another side of the same coin. One solution is for students to simply spread across the university town instead of clustering in specific areas. This will mean the areas feel less dead during holiday-time, locals don't feel so swamped by students and there are more likely to be people in the area who have a commitment to the area. You are also less likely to get ripped off if you rent a house in a less student-dominated area. Students want to live close to university, however, and want to live near each other. The only way to get people to spread out is through planning strategy on the part of the council / university.
Headingley Against Landlordism call on the government, the council, the universities and landlords to act. They want Houses of Multiple Occupancy refused licences, they want drinking establishments refused licences, and they want the university to build its own accommodation in other areas. They ask residents not to sell houses to student landlords, and parents not to buy houses for their kids. They say every student house is one less house for a local family. You can see their point perhaps, but unless we are going to live with our folks all our lives, us students need somewhere to live too.
Another approach to making things more harmonious is for students to get more involved in the community, and in Leeds a number of schemes exist bringing students and local people together for projects to improve the area. If students want to get on better with those locals who may not be forever prejudiced, and be regarded as proper residents, part of the answer may be to act more like proper residents.