A review of the Private Rented Sector (PRS) by the University’s Centre for Housing Policy has defended the position of students as important tenants in the sector, claiming that measures to cut student accommodation numbers could be judged to be “unethical and discriminatory.”
The report, which was launched last Thursday by authors Julie Rugg and David Rhodes of the University, has strongly rejected myths surrounding the negative impact that student tenants have on communities.
Stating that only 59 of England’s 8,000 wards, or 0.7%, have a student population of more than 10% of the total, Rugg and Rhodes argue that while certain areas may feel a negative impact of student numbers, the problem “is clearly not a widespread issue.”
“There is a vociferous anti-student lobby, but this is not a widespread problem… A lot of the rhetoric attached to student housing is overblown,” said Rugg, while presenting the report.
Some local councils in the UK, including York’s, lobbying the government to enact powers allowing local authorities to curb the total amount of Homes of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in student-heavy areas. The report has strongly undermined these claims.
Areas in Durham, Oxford, Manchester and Leeds were specifically referenced in the report, with the Headingley area of Leeds used by many anti-HMO lobbyists to illustrate the scale of the problem. Students make up over 60% of the total population there.
Rugg and Rhodes, however, state that measures taken to curb student numbers in certain areas are “highly artificial interventions in the operation of the local housing market and underline prejudice against student households… A similar policy attached to any other group in society would be likely to be judged unethical and discriminatory.”
Ama Uzowuru, NUS Vice President (Welfare), said: “We welcome this independent review, which is a victory for common sense. The report acknowledges that higher education institutions are a catalyst for regeneration and job creation and that although there are some problems, these should not be taken out of proportion.
“It is important to remember that students often contribute a great deal to their community – not just through boosting the local economy, but also through their charity and fundraising activities,” she added.
The report highlights that the speed with which the student market has been forced to grow in line with government moves to increase the total university population is the main reason for the problems associated with student housing.
“In some locations, student populations have increased rapidly, which has driven a rush to broaden the PRS in locations close to the [University] concerned over a relatively short period,” the report states.
“Students need to be near their institution. There needs to be better frameworks to deal with student housing,” added Rugg.
“NUS encourages students’ unions to engage with their local communities and local government to address any problems that might arise. It is critical, especially in light of government plans to expand university provision to 20 new cities, that all parties take a thoughtful approach to these problems,” continued Uzowuru.
The report is also disapproving of the emergence of costly student accommodation. Describing the student sub-market as a “conspicuous component of the PRS”, the report is critical of the move by “big business” to create luxury student accommodation, doubting whether this “serves the interests of students seeking to minimise their accommodation costs and so reduce their level of indebtedness on graduation.”