InFocus: Lily von Geyer of C.A.S.H on theHousing Crisis in St Andrews
This week, The Saint spoke with Lily von Geyer of St Andrews Campaign for Affordable Student Housing, better known as C.A.S.H, on the lack of affordable student housing in St Andrews.
C.A.S.H was formed in 2019 by Dan Marshal, a previous President of the Students Association. It is not affiliated with the Association but is instead a standalone campaign. Lily, a third-year student, joined C.A.S.H in her second year as PR rep. She took over as Director this year. On why she joined, she said, “St Andrews should be accessible to all students, regardless of their income.”
The campaign holds various events to interact with students and allow them to put forward their questions to the people who make decisions surrounding accommodation in St Andrews.
Last Semester, they held a ‘Paint and Pints’ social. Students painted how they felt about accommodation in St Andrews, as well as having the opportunity to meet committee members. Lily said, “It was a way to gauge student opinion of the housing crisis and start conversations about methods of change. Also, we wanted a fun way to make C.A.S.H posters! (Keep an eye around town).”
This semester, the campaign has held further events. In January, they organised a Q&A with Matt Boulton, the founder of ‘Get my Deposit Back’, an organisation to help students understand their tenant rights.
They also held a panel discussion the night of 16 March to provide students with an opportunity to ask questions to the University, the Government, estate agents, renters unions and campaigners. Panellists included: North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie; Rollos Estate Agents; Joyce Lapeyre (University Student Services); Owen Wright (Housing Campaigner and NUS Scotland Presidential Nominee); Living Rent (Scottish Tenants Union); and Barry Will (C.A.S.H).
Upcoming Association President Juan Pablo Rodríguez also attended the campaign’s panel night. In his manifesto, he recognised the problems surrounding accommodation within the university, and is keen to work with C.A.S.H. during his term in office.
The campaign prides itself on discussion with students regarding lack of affordable housing in St Andrews. Prior to a meeting with the University regarding the crisis, C.A.S.H sent out a survey for students living in Dundee. The results of this survey showed that 100% of respondents would prefer to live in St Andrews, and that 81% moved to Dundee as a last resort. 100% respondents also said living in university provided accommodation in Dundee had negatively impacted their mental health.
The meeting was held with the University on 3 March, regarding the prices of hall accommodation. On how this meeting went, Lily said, “It went well. This year the University started listening to C.A.S.H and have taken on board our ideas. Key things covered included a pay as you go catering system (as only 50% of students attend break- fast and lunch.... So they shouldn’t have to pay for missed meals!). The university also agreed to be more transparent on spending, in other words by providing an annual report on where accommodation profits are invested.”
Hall prices have risen in St Andrews, and C.A.S.H claims that the recent loss of the old Albany Halls has seen the last remaining affordable accommodation in the town disappear. The rent for this hall was just under £4,000 a year. A replacement hall is being planned but the cost of rent has not yet been established.
The prices of self-catered halls range from £4,975 to £7,205 a year, and catered halls from £6,062 to £10,137.
On finding a solution to high hall prices, Lily said, “I don’t think the current price of halls will ever decrease. The university isn’t aiming to grow, they reached expected student numbers for 2023 back in 2020 due to COVID. Student numbers can’t be lowered right now, and I don’t think it would be fair to take in smaller co-horts for subsequent years, giving less applicants the chance to study here. However, the university can:
"1: Amend bursaries, making them means tested, not income based. So, if you can’t afford rent, the university pays/provides bursaries regardless of your household income
"2: For Scottish students the max- imum SAAS loan is £5750. Currently, the university bases affordability off the SFE loan which is about £9500. This disadvantages Scottish stu- dents. It would be good to demand inflation-based SAAS loan increases in order to aid Scottish students.
"3: Amend the HMO license cap. This has currently forced some land- lords with 3+ bed properties to enter the short term let market (e.g. airBNB) or only allow 2 students to live in larger properties.”
The solution for high costs in private accommodation lies with the Scottish Government. Solutions may include action such as rent caps. Leaders such as MSP Willie Rennie can pass information onto Holyrood and help put on pressure for tenant rights. In terms of how people can get involved, Lily proposed joining the C.A.S.H committee. She also suggested sending in a testimony of experiences with high rent prices.