Students voted to form a new tenant’s union last Monday evening, in the face of rising rent costs and poor accommodation, particularly on University owned property.
The meeting, organized by students Cian Ireland, Euan Stainbank, Abdullah al-Ammari, Daniel Deery and Student Union housing officer Joshua Muirhead, aimed to unite students in opposition to the high rent prices and better represent their interests to the University. Over the past decade, the University has demolished older, cheaper accomodation like Geddes Court and Murray Hall to make way for luxury new builds with a rent to match, pricing poorer students out of most halls of residence. Ireland himself was forced to move from his halls midway through his studies because of the rising rent.
“It’s not fair on students that, right off the bat, your SAAS allowance can’t even cover accommodation,” one student complained, “How can you then meet up with friends, join a club? They’re not free.”
Concerns with the quality of the less unaffordable ‘legacy’ options were raised too. One student who lived in Muirhead described “a water supply that was not safe to drink from”.
He said that he’d poured a glass of water from the tap “with a head like a pint of Guinness”.
“It’s shocking. It should have been condemned years ago.”
Another in so-called ‘legacy accomodation’ complained of poorly-maintained pipes flooding their kitchen three times.
Housing has been a contentious issue for some time, being a major factor in student elections for years now and sparking protests on campus when Union negotiations with the University have disappointed. While successive rent agreements have slowed rising rents and secured benefits such as the Accommodation Enhancement Fund, which students struggling to pay their rent can apply to for financial support, but this has fallen short of past promises.
Incumbent president Astrid Smallenbroek ran on a much more modest platform of increased rent support, as the limits of what the Student Union could achieve on the issue became clear.
Ireland says the turnout to the meeting “highlights just how much we students want an alternative to the current housing situation.”
Ireland and his co-organizers hope that their fresh approach might be the key to a better deal. Their plan, in its early stages, involves a steering committee consisting of four students and three representatives of the Student Union – housing officer Joshua Muirhead; President Astrid Smallenbroek; and Vice President for Communities Jamie Grant, who was also present at the meating. The Student Union has not yet agreed to the proposal, which was passed pending approval, though Grant says that they will meet next week.
A tenant’s union is an idea that has been floated on campus before, most notably by VP Comms candidate Alasdair Ibbotson during the election of 2017, but this is the first attempt to be put into practice. While the organizers stress that their plans are in the early stages, they have high hopes for the future. In an interview with Air 3 Radio, Ireland suggested a housing cooperative, run by student tenants instead of accommodation services, as just one possible avenue for the new union to go down.
A University spokesman said: “We welcome feedback from students who stay in our accommodation and look forward to working with the newly formed tenants’ association. The average annual rent in our accommodation is 6% lower than the average annual rent for student accommodation in Scotland and we operate a fund for those who need financial assistance towards rent. Reported faults are addressed as quickly as possible and students are welcome to contact our accommodation team with any issues.”