Housing scandal turns from farce to tragedy

If history repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce, York’s students’ housing arrangements have seen both sides of the coin.

Over the last few years we have seen rents rise way out of line with accommodation standards. So that ‘£60.00 a week maximum’ promised by the nice people in Recruitment and Admissions is now a distant fantasy.

The latest farce comes from the City Council whose Article 4 Directive is about to have a very nasty impact on hundreds of students. They risk eviction to suit the dictates of a very flawed policy. No one deserves to have their home plucked from them and to be plunged into the murky world of “temporary accommodation”, all because someone was too greedy, too in need of their £70 pounds per person per week, to risk planning permission.

Last April the City Council essentially banned the future conversion of “family dwellings” into “houses in multiple occupation”, the new legal classification of a house with 3 or more “unrelated adults”. Part of their reasoning seemed sound at the time; part of it was very dodgy. Obviously if a landlord can rent a house for £700 a month to a family of 4, versus Renting it for £1,440 a month to a group of 5 students (assuming a rent of £72.00 per person per week, now fairly standard in York), who are they going to choose?

The Council was worried that students were pricing families out of York’s housing market. For a time a few years ago this was arguably correct. But it’s hardly our fault that York has the wages of Warrington and the prices of Winchester. Students must not be penalised for the greed of others.

The council’s other concern was “anti-social behaviour” caused by students – a much-contested assertion. I have read the Council’s report. A lot of the “Technical Paper on Student Housing” rests upon the assumption that using a grid you can chart student housing by the number of pizza boxes that the investigating officers found on the ground, and by the number of noise complaints and burglaries.

A scan of who is currently being chased by the Council due to disturbing their neighbours tells us that it generally isn’t students. Rather it is people who have lived their entire lives in York. More tragically, burglary victims often are students – but this is frequently because their landlords don’t fit suitable, basic, anti-theft measures such as strong locks, decent windows, and bike sheds.

The situation has been brought on by landlords rushing to cash in, but the Council are perpetuating the crisis.

Landlords are terrified that getting non-students into their houses will mean that they will not be able to house higher paying students in their houses in future. A council ‘committed’ to housing justice is potentially set to turf hundreds out onto the streets, causing them all manner of upset and stress, all for zero gain to ordinary people.

Let’s stop the tragedy, stop the farce. We must stand in solidarity with our fellow students facing action from the Council through no fault of their own, and blame those landlords who have brought us to this impasse through greed. It is time to consider new ways, which do not impact upon tenants, to control their actions.

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