By Georgia Waye-Barker
Norwich has been identified as a popular place to live in England, bringing plentiful benefits, as well as its fair share of challenges. Its diverse population needs a range of housing solutions, and these need to be carefully balanced throughout the city to ensure a sustainable community and good quality of life for all.
Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) often provide housing for students and young people, who are unable to access other forms of housing. HMOs therefore provide a vital element of Norwich’s housing options. However, evidence suggests that large numbers of HMOs located in concentrated areas can have an adverse effect on the mix of housing use in the community.
In response to this, a cross-party recommendation was instigated by Norwich City councillors in the form of Article 4, which was subsequently rejected by Cabinet (September 14). An Article 4 Direction can be used to regulate the number of HMOs in a particular area, in which new applications can be refused when an agreed limit has been reached. The debate stimulated heated arguments from both sides, some of which are flawed and largely based on inaccuracies; therefore this article serves to address these.
students are generally well-received, and their contribution to the vibrant nature of the area is recognised
The UEA Student Union launched a change.org petition in opposition to Article 4, which is somewhat contradictory. It claims that Article 4 is anti-student and based on stereotypes about student behaviour. This is absolutely not the case. Having been a UEA student myself and experienced living in the Golden Triangle, I have felt that students are generally well-received, and their contribution to the vibrant nature of the area is recognised. However, it is understandable that there is concern over a possible imbalance in long-term and short-term residents in the community. From the beginning of the summer until mid-September, many students go home. If the number of students in a particular area is too high, it can affect local businesses during this time, and result in a ‘ghost-town’ effect during these months.
It then also points out that “many HMOs are occupied by working professionals”. Of course, HMOs are not just populated by students, but there does need to be a healthy balance between HMOs – whether students live there or young professionals – and houses for families. Surely this indicates that it’s not in fact a vendetta against students, but a response to the problems inherent in high concentrations of HMOs.
Rental prices tend to be pushed up by HMOs, making it difficult for young families to find a rental property. For example, charging £300/month per person for four people produces a monthly rental value of £1,200; a property that would normally command barely half that as a family house. It is important for local schools to have an influx of young children that live within the catchment area; otherwise children will be travelling from further distances. This can have a detrimental environmental impact bringing more traffic to already congested streets around schools during the morning rush.
The petition stated that the implementation of Article 4 “could mean that students are pushed out of areas such as the Golden Triangle”. This is wrong. Article 4 is not retrospective; it would only apply to new applications, which means that current HMOs would not be affected. This claim has been widely and wrongly reported amongst the media. Moreover, the Article 4 Direction would only prevent new conversions being allowed if more than 30% of properties in one street were already HMOs. It is irresponsible of the Student Union to scare students into thinking that they may be ‘forced out’ of their current properties.
In a previous piece published by The Norwich Radical, it was claimed that “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.” There is no evidence that Article 4 will result in an increase in house prices. In fact, restricting the conversion of properties into HMOs may actually reduce house prices, since there will be less demand from landlords who want to maximise their rental income by owning lots of HMOs.
Ultimately, the intention is not to prevent HMOs, instead, Article 4 would be used to maintain a balanced and sustainable mix of housing options in particular locations.
Header image via edp24.c.o.uk