Students feel the pinch of a creaking housing market

Desperation sets in for freshers Miles Lonergan and Darcy Peake, who have spent the last month or so frantically attempting to find a suitable home for the next academic year. So far, the results do not appear promising.

“It just feels impossible to get a house,” Miles groaned after his latest unsuccessful house viewing.

Like countless other St. Andrews students, Miles and Darcy have discovered the complex and frustrating maze that is the St. Andrews housing market.  This year, additional uncertainty has been thrown into the mix as the moratorium on new HMO permits has begun in earnest.

Much ink has been spilled over HMOs in the last year; previously sleepy town hall meetings have become contentious battlegrounds over housing policy that often result in a “town vs gown” mentality.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, members of the Fife Council as well as the Community & Housing Services Committee (CHS) continue to argue that a moratorium on HMOs will actually attract more young families and other tradition tenets. Proponents of the moratorium insist that it will curb the anti-social behavior, predominately public drunkenness and unkempt homes, that can be a regular occurrence in student-dominated populations.

Many members of the student government, university faculty, and even a certain few on the Fife Council claim that the moratorium will actually have an adverse effect on the housing effect. Contrary to what is hoped for by its proponents, the moratorium will instead make housing in town less affordable and less attractive to traditional tenants.

While the full effects of the current ban won’t be clear for another few months,  students say they feel frustrated with the current situation. Students are particularly concerned with increasingly unequal relationships between landlords and tenants despite persistently high rents. Students have complained about poor maintenance within rented properties, unkempt front yards, and landlord negligence in their residences.

One student who wishes to remain anonymous in fear of souring her relationship with her housing agency has complained that her rented property is constantly neglected, stating that “the landlord often is slow or fails to address [problems]. There are issues with our pipes and heat, and the rent is over 600 a month.”

Other students consulted during the writing of this article consistently complained about the issues associated with absentee landlords. Many of the landlords in St. Andrews use local housing agents to manage their properties. These agents could have little to no sense of personal responsibility for the property, which often leads to unhelpful tenant-landlord relationships.

On the other hand, students in University-managed accommodations report much higher satisfaction with their housing. In last year’s Student Accommodation Survey 2017, four University halls were commended for being among the best in the country including St Salvator’s Hall, St Regulus Hall, John Burnet Hall, and McIntosh Hall.

Photo: University of St Andrews

Another pressing issue is St. Andrews’ persistently high rents. According to a Bank of Scotland study reported in Fife Today, St. Andrews residents pay some of the highest rents in Scotland, with “the average monthly rent for a student in the town stuck at £509.44, putting St Andrews at number three in the list.”

In the rest of the United Kingdom, the average rent spent across the 35 universities of the survey was £448 per month.

Darcy, the previously mentioned fresher, stated, “It feels like I’m paying too much for not much.”

The particularly high rents within St Andrews might be due to an explosive growth of the size of the student body in the last 17 years. According to a study by St. Andrews’ Ross Brown, the student population has changed rapidly; “from around 3,000 students at the turn of the century, the University has now expanded its numbers threefold to a figure of 8,790 in 2017.”

The increase in the number of students has raised demand for housing and driven up rent.

While the situation is contentious, there is wide agreement that there needs to be some sort of change. Recently the Fife Council has issued a survey seeking to gather residents and student views on the HMO policy. You can participate in the survey here.

As for Freshers Miles and Darcy, they are thinking of more creative ways to navigate St. Andrews’ confounding housing market. According to Fresher Darcy, “We’ve heard married couples have an easier time getting homes, so I keep asking Miles when he’ll pop the question.”

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