So You Care About The Housing Crisis?

One thing is undeniable about our student body: we care passionately about many causes, and we are willing to fight to make sure everybody feels safe and welcome in our town. Maybe it’s because we are a smaller community than most, and so we have to look out for each other; maybe St. Andrews simply attracts a great mix of strong-spirited students who are always ready to stand up for what they think is right. The chances are, you’ve joined in a protest of some sort during your time here. So why are we so silent about a housing crisis which is forcing Fife’s adults and children into extreme poverty? A crisis in which exploitative landlords are preying on the vulnerability of students and locals who desperately search for a home in a pressured housing market? A crisis which places greed and profit over the safety and wellbeing of tenants?

In 2018, the University bulldozed the cheapest halls of residence in a move symbolic of their policy for providing affordable options. For undergraduates, Albany Park was replaced by Whitehorn Hall. Combined with Gannochy, these are now the most affordable halls available to undergraduate students in St. Andrews, despite their fees representing an almost 50% increase in their cost per week compared to Albany Park – and that 50% increase is only for the 87 rooms which are self-catered. The other 97 are almost three times as expensive.

This issue is not just a local one. Student rents in Scotland have increased 30% in the last three years alone. If the burden is not on us as students, it is on our parents. Wages have largely stagnated in the last decade despite increases in inflation and the cost of living. The transition from providing functional and affordable bedrooms to providing expensive, luxury flats has come at the expense of everyone except the landlords and institutions who profit from our desperation. The student housing crisis is a national issue, however the private housing market in many large cities is acting as a buffer of sort (at least compared to St. Andrews) for those students with the least resources. In St. Andrews, for those who cannot afford to live in student halls, the local housing market offers no respite. Private rents continue to increase at record rates, and in 2017, St. Andrews was named the most profitable place in the country to be a student landlord.

The most worrying concern is that as we drive up local rents, those most impacted are low-income locals. In the latter half of 2021, Fife ranked third in Scotland for the most food bank parcels delivered to residents. Almost 20% of children in Fife are living in absolute poverty, and that is before housing costs are deducted. If we continue to let rents increase, we place the greatest burden on those who have the least. Every time we stay silent as our landlords increase our rents by unjustifiable amounts, we condone others doing the same to our friends and neighbours. It’s no longer acceptable that we stay silent.

So, what can we do about it? For one, we can demand national rent controls which limit the ability of a landlord to exploit tenants and increase rents by unreasonable amounts. We also need changes in the law which can control the overexpansion of holiday lets in town – these properties take regular homes out of the market and decease the supply of affordable options. We also need accountability from our university leadership – demanding an immediate increase in the provision of bedrooms that are actually affordable, alongside a decrease in student numbers at intake to levels that are sustainable for our small town.

It’s clear that the issues driving the housing crisis in St. Andrews are larger than a lack of university provided affordable bedrooms – as some first think. Our accommodation subcommittee alone won’t cut it, sadly. Neither will sharing social media posts (despite their value in circulating important information). We need to understand that information is not power: people are power. The fight for affordable housing starts with us realising our collective agency and demanding our leaders act in our interest. I believe joining a tenant’s union is one the most effective tools to start this fight.

Living Rent, Scotland’s largest tenants’ union, has already launched a national campaign which addresses many of the housing problems we face in St. Andrews. We can’t win this fight alone, but we can win it together: I encourage you to join me as a member with Living Rent today and bring your passion to a national movement which says enough is enough. We have the tools to make St. Andrews affordable for everyone who chooses to call it home, but that is only possible if we choose to do something about it. I refuse to be silent any longer, and I hope you do, too.

Illustration: Edward Emery

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