by Lucy Auger
The estimated cost of living for students currently stands at £12,056 per year excluding course costs, and their average income from loans and funding leave students having to find an extra £6,071 each year. You would be forgiven for assuming that Norwich councillors would want to keep rent low and appeal to as many students as possible considering that students make up such a significant proportion of their voters, however it seems that the councillors themselves are not quite on the same page.
Article 4 is a cross-party proposal by Norwich city councillors to limit the amount of homes of multiple occupancy (HMOs) in the Golden Triangle area. Once Article 4 has been finalised and brought forward by councillors as a motion, it will likely mean that landlords will have to apply to reclassify their houses as HMOs, giving the council the ability to reject these applications and thus reduce the amount of student homes in the Golden Triangle. While mealy-mouthed councillors have sought to portray this as being in the interest of students as it would give the City Council the opportunity to regulate HMOs, the reality is that these plans amount to little more than the social cleansing of the student population.
Introducing restrictions on the ability of landlords to quickly convert ill-fitted properties into HMOs at first sounds intuitive. We all know the problems prevalent within the student housing market and the exploitative nature of the landlords that operate within it. But regulation on HMOs, when packaged with the notion that a local authority can arbitrarily decide the number of house sharers in the private rented sector within a given area, it is pernicious.
the reality is that these plans amount to little more than the social cleansing of the student population
While Article 4 may have a beneficial effect for wealthy home owners in an area currently with a high student population as house prices increase, its impact on renters will be disastrous. Rather than living in a convenient location, with good transport links to both the city and their University, students will be pushed into areas ill suited for student populations, without the required infrastructure.
Worse still, because restrictions on available HMO properties will be on an almost exclusively numerical basis, the supply within the market rapidly shrinks, at a time when the Government’s lifting of the cap on student numbers is set to see the student population in Norwich increase. Shrinking supply means two things, neither of which are in the interest of tenants, both of which are in the interest of landlords.
With fewer houses on the market, students and other house sharers will fall victim to rapidly jacked up rents as their choices become more and more limited. Similarly, the squeeze on available houses allows landlords to cut corners on quality as well as ignore the rights of the tenants as renters face a tougher and tougher time of finding a house in the first place.
Article 4 sends a clear message to the students of Norwich that to these councillors we are not welcome and we are not a priority.
Article 4 is an insult to the thousands of students in Norwich that are already struggling with debt. It is also an insult to the students who voted these councillors in, only to have their community attacked by the very people they handed power to. Most importantly however, Article 4 sends a clear message to the students of Norwich that to these councillors we are not welcome and we are not a priority.
It seems absurd that city councillors would take actions that make living in Norwich even harder on a student budget when students bring substantial economic benefits to the city. UEA alone is responsible for five percent of Norwich’s employment, and students spend £201,000,000 in the city each year, so it remains unclear why councillors would seek to make life harder for students or deter future generations from choosing Norwich as their home.
As well as having a sizeable financial impact on students, Article 4 will have a devastating effect on students as a community. Feelings of isolation among students are very real, and dispersing us across the city will do nothing to solve this. An area such as the Golden Triangle that is so densely populated with students, provides a sense of community, and of course promotes a feeling of security for students across the entire area. To threaten this is pointless and damaging to that community, and thankfully students already begun to kick back.
The rapid response from students has already come under fire from many councillors, claiming that it is irresponsible to be so openly critical before plans are finalised in the form of a motion. What councillors appear to have forgotten, is that affordable housing is the single most important issue for so many students, and any threat to that is one we take incredibly seriously. The student response to Article 4 must be swift, coherent, and relentless. We must demand that all councillors in favour of Article 4 withdraw their support, to prove that they truly care about the cost of living for students.
UEA Students’ Union has already launched a petition that has been signed by almost 700 people in just two weeks, and Students’ Union Officers have been lobbying key members of the City Council, advocating the concerns of many UEA students and members of the wider community. Students have grabbed this fight with both hands, and will not let go until city councillors completely reject Article 4.
Header image via scenicnorfolk.co.uk