Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.

More info ×

Homes of our own: the growing student co-operative movement

Sean Farmelo is part of a group of Birmingham students involved in setting up a new student housing co-op

September 15, 2013
4 min read

students-coopStudents in the UK are coughing up an average of £69 per week to live in what are often tiny rooms in rented properties. This cost has been steadily increasing over the past few decades and most cities now have a student area in which houses kitted out with as many bedrooms as possible are hawked out to students often unaware of the rules and regulations that lettings agents are supposed to abide by.

Students such as Michaela Christofi, one of our colleagues and a Birmingham University graduate, have found their houses neglected regardless of the extortionate rents they hand over to their landlords. ‘When our cellar was flooded with more than a foot of water in autumn, we asked our landlord to sort it out,’ Michaela told me. ‘After his visit, he reassured us: “It’s all sorted out now.” We found out after returning from Christmas that “sorted” meant locking the door down and pretending there wasn’t a festering lake underneath the house. No attempt was made at resolving the problem at all.’ Stories like this can be heard in most universities across the country, and the problem has gone largely unchallenged.

Problems with rented properties and private landlords are not restricted to students; they extend throughout the rented property sector. Shelter reports that more than one in five families are now living in rented properties after a 72 per cent expansion in the number of privately-rented properties since 2001. Around 30 per cent of those families have experienced problems with their property or letting agents, while 72 per cent struggle with rents.

It’s clear a solution to renting property is needed by many people across the UK, not just students. We believe the problem lies not just with unscrupulous landlords or letting agents, but rather with the idea of private property rental in the first place. Landlords are in the business of owning land and property, and making their money by renting it to those who can’t afford to buy their own.

Our co-op will mean that the landlord’s profit can instead go towards improving our housing and reducing our rent. We will still pay a company, BCHS, for maintenance, repairs and help to manage our tenancies, but because of our status as members of the business that owns the property we will value our housing more and be directly in control of the rent, what gets mended and by whom.

We plan to purchase two terraced properties with five beds each. These will be co-owned by students, who will be both members directly in control of the business, Birmingham Students Housing Cooperative, and tenants of the properties. Essentially we are attempting to make housing more affordable by removing landlords from the equation – eliminating what Marx dubbed the ‘parasitic class’.

The residents will change regularly, with people moving out when their degrees are finished. Priority will be given to those who have an interest in promoting the co-operative model and are most in need of affordable housing. This will allow a large number of people to experience living in the houses and build a community over the years until eventually the mortgage is paid off. A future set of residents will then be able to make a decision to either expand the co-op or lower rents further. If the co-op were to fail, no student would be held liable for more than £1 as the business is incorporated as a company limited by guarantee.

Our plans are just a small part of a growing student co-operative movement. Discussions have been held in Edinburgh, Warwick, Sussex and Leeds, with more groups and interested students getting together across the country with the intention of creating co-ops. June 2013 saw the initial gathering of a national network, Students for Co‑operation, with the intention to set up a support mechanism for emerging co-op groups and help them get their businesses off the ground. There is a real chance that adopting the co-operative model is something that could support students at a time when rising debt and high costs are discouraging increasing numbers of students from pursuing qualifications in higher education.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency


79