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Students protest poor housing at NUS rally

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Yesterday, more than one hundred students gathered in front of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh for Student Housing Rally.

Among the attendees were staff of the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland, who organised the rally, and members of the University and College Union (UCU), Living Rent, and politicians.

The rally was happening on the back of a new NUS survey of 3,500 college and university students released at the end of February.

Matt Crilly, President of NUS Scotland, said: “We’re here today because, as the banners say, 12% of students in this country have experienced homelessness since the start of their studies and 34% increase in student rent in the last three years.

“And we often think in Scotland we’re a lot better than other parts of the UK – student rent is rising faster in Scotland than any other part of the UK, and that’s why we’re here today.”

Matt Crilly opening with a speech at the rally. (Image Credit: Simi Borovska)

The survey also found that a third of students have considered dropping out because of financial problems, and two thirds of students have experienced mental health issues because of financial pressure.

Among the speakers were politicians from all parties in the Scottish Parliament. 

Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens co-leader and Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights, said that “adequate housing is a human right” and urged people to get their voices heard in the consultation for A New Deal for Tenants – “rented sector strategy, which seeks to improve accessibility, affordability choices and standards across the whole rented sector in Scotland”.

Barry Hill, Living Rent spokesperson, asked people to endorse the tenants’ union response to the consultation: “We want democratic policies that control the entire rental sector, policies that are for the people, that are in the interest of the people and not in the interest of our landlords or institutions who are profiting off our desperation.”

Students came to Edinburgh from all over Scotland, including Dundee, Stirling, and Glasgow. Here are the delegations from University of Dundee and Edinburgh College. (Image Credit: Simi Borovska)

Speaking of what universities and their management could do for students, Crilly said that they need tenancy rights, rent controls, and student housing guarantee.

Crilly advocates for points-based system of rent controls, which would tie the quality of the accommodation to the amount of rent a landlord can charge.

“One of the big things that university bosses need to think about is when they’re planning for increased student recruitment, they need to think about the housing implications of that – they need to be building affordable decent accommodation that students can live in,” said Crilly. “The universities are expanding every year, but the housing isn’t expanding alongside them.”

The University of Stirling experienced housing shortage in 2017, when students who couldn’t get housing in Stirling were offered alternative accommodation in Glasgow.

Brig reported another housing shortage at the beginning of this academic year.

Speaking about how the university plans to tackle the housing problems, a university spokesperson said: “The University offers a range of secure and affordable accommodation including over 2,000 rooms on campus, as well as off-campus residences.

“We always encourage students to apply for accommodation as early as possible. We constantly review the uptake of university accommodation and work closely with the Students’ Union to consider the balance of students returning to university accommodation. We also continue to discuss private student accommodation options within the local area working with the City Council.”

“What do we want? Rent controls! When do we want it? Now!” chants the crowd.

Morgan Lewis-Wilson, 21, a student at Stirling University, came to the rally because he thought that “the housing situation in Scotland is tragic. We’re living amidst a housing emergency, where people are paying the vast majority of their incomes just to be freezing cold in a substandard accommodation.

“Student accommodation is a joke too. The fact that people have to pay almost the same amount as they would if they were renting to receive what amounts to a bedroom and some communal spaces is unbelievable. When I was in first year, I had problems with silverfish in my bedroom. My flatmates had mould on their carpets and leaky radiators that stank of something suspicious.

“When I moved into my own flat, we had a mice infestation and would have constant trouble with the boiler breaking down. You’d think £400 odd a month would be enough to fix these problems, but it seems like some folk are more interested in using it to pay off their mortgages.”

Featured Image Credit: Simi Borovska

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