Today is Scottish Housing Day.
Scottish Housing Day aims to raise public awareness of the latest developments in housing, different options available when deciding where to live and give people easier access to the resources they need to make properly informed housing decisions. One of this year’s themes is addressing the specific challenges facing younger people, a demographic that many students fall into.
According to the Student Living Index, compiled by the Royal Bank of Scotland, Glasgow is the least affordable city for students in the UK. One of the biggest expenses for many students is rent. Regardless of whether you live in a shared flat or in halls, rents are increasing and the standard of the accommodation received in return often doesn’t reflect this.
Many students, especially those who have just moved to Glasgow from abroad or are leaving home for the fist time, aren’t fully aware of their rights as a tenant. This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation from unscrupulous landlords. Rents are expensive, often repairs aren’t done quickly (or at all) and most people we have spoken to have one or two horror stories about their time spent renting as a student.
Earlier in the year we built a house (unfortunately too small for us to move into) to record peoples’ thoughts about the project and about co-ops in general. On the back of our house we have been collecting stories from students about problems they’ve experienced living in the private rented sector.
Here are some of the highlights:
My ex-landlord altered a contract on Photoshop after we’d signed it.
Failed to tell us about the rat infestation.
My landlord kept it a secret that my kitchen floor had fallen through.
My ex-landlord made me live in mouldy conditions.
An electrician said the wiring in my flat was unsafe and the landlord never fixed it.
Getting threatened with eviction for no reason.
My current landlord avoided fixing our heating for almost two years despite constant haranguing.
My previous landlord wasn’t a registered landlord and we didn’t sign a contract. When we found out about the cockroach infestation he asked us to speak to the other tenants in the building ourselves to come up with a solution.
My ex-landlord wouldn’t speak to women.
My landlord’s ex-husband let himself in without asking and tried to talk to us about the breakdown of his marriage.
It’s clear that students, as well as many others living in the private rented sector, are often unsatisfied with their homes and receive a poor service from their landlords. We believe that housing co-ops, which are controlled democratically by the tenant members, are a solution to this problem.
In a co-op, the building is either owned by or leased by the co-op, not an individual. Each tenant is a member of the co-op and has an equal say in how decisions are made, meaning that all of the tenants collectively take on the role of the landlord and are responsible for how the co-op is run. This covers everything from how to decorate to ensuring that rent is collected, recruiting new members, organising repairs, solving problems and how best to engage with the local community.
Housing co-ops empower students to make decisions that affect them everyday. Co-ops give students more control to ensure their needs such as access and affordable rent are met. Any surplus collected from rent is put back into the running of the co-op for improvements to the building, community activities and securing new buildings for future expansion. Co-op members learn a wide range of skills from DIY to strategic planning, working together and making important decisions. Living cooperatively can increase the well being of residents and allows then to become part of the community. This is often lacking in student halls and areas with lots of student flats causing tension with non-student residents in the area.
To mark Scottish Housing Day we took part in the Viewfield Lane Festival which was put on by Glasgow University Environmental Sustainability Team as part of Fresher’s Week. As well as our house, we brought along lots of information about co-ops, some vegan biscuits (house shaped, of course) and held a craft workshop where visitors to our stall could use ribbon and clothes pegs to make a decoration for their bedroom, helping to personalise it for the start of the new term.
The idea behind this craft was to provide a way to display pictures that causes minimal damage to the wall as private landlords often discourage you from using screws, nails, pins or blue tack to display pictures and will keep part of your deposit if they see a mark on the wall when you leave! In most student halls, they are banned completely! This means it can be difficult to make a space feel like your own, particularly if you are going to be living there for a limited time and aren’t keen on magnolia walls.
It was great to see how creative people can be with a few clothes pegs, pens and stickers and we hope that everyone enjoys their new room décor!
We spoke to students, most of whom didn’t know much about co-ops or how they work, but people were enthusiastic and we hope some of them will come along to one of our meetings to find out more.
It’s important to raise awareness of co-ops because even though students may not become involved in Glasgow Student Housing Co-op, there are so many opportunities where co-ops can provide a better alternative to the status quo in housing, work, retail— the possibilities are endless so the more people who know about co-ops, the better!
Renting, Venting and Change – Saturday 23rd September 2017
We will also be taking part in another Scottish Housing Day event this Saturday, Renting, Venting and Change which is being put on by Shelter Scotland and Living Rent. We will be talking about how co-ops can be an alternative to renting from the private sector and giving an update on what we have achieved so far.
The event is free to attend. Find out more and register here:
Shelter Scotland- Renting, Venting and Change