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.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry


79