Opinion

The Big Issue Platform: "Open up the student halls"

Reader John Adams suggests rethinking student accommodation to make use of under-utilised space

There was a shocking rise in homelessness in 2017 – both rough sleeping and hidden numbers. It’s clear that nobody has a simple and sure-footed means of getting to grips with it, and the underlying poverty and deeper issues that lead to it. However, it’s also clear that many people are trying. There is a focus on homelessness and a desire to break the cycle. We opened up The Big Issue to ideas. The Big Issue Platform is non-partisan and open to politicians, policy-makers, business, third-sector leaders, readers and vendors. Anybody who has an idea that can be part of the solution – send it to us.

Rethink student accommodation – John Adams

Thousands of new homes have been built in recent years but are unoccupied for 20 weeks in the year. These are university halls of residence. At the beginning of every term students (mainly first-year students) move themselves and their belongings into these “transit camps” and then 10 weeks later have to move out again; this behaviour is repeated during the next two terms. So for four weeks at Christmas and Easter and 10-12 weeks in the summer these accommodations are generally unoccupied (except perhaps when universities have conferences).

Is this the best way to utilise our building resources? Is it the best way to accommodate our students? Do our neighbours in Europe commit so much building to be used for only 30 weeks in the year? Is the constant movement of students and their belongings a meaningful start to tertiary education? Will two-year courses (as recently proposed) encourage more permanent occupancy of university accommodation?

In any event it is likely that in all the major university cities there will be many rooms which are unoccupied for long periods.

Should ALL university accommodation blocks earmark at least five (ideally minimum 10) units as sheltered accommodation? Should we challenge ALL universities to review the accommodation that they provide both directly and in the private rented sector to which they give accreditation, and target them to identify capacity for sheltered units? And can we give local councils stronger powers (or tell them to use existing powers) to deal firmly AND promptly with landlords who allow their properties to fall into disrepair? We should use prompt compulsory purchase and then modernise and make available for social housing – does anybody disagree with this?

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