A City Without Landlords? – An interview with the Glasgow Student Housing Cooperative

Going to university is supposedly a time of intellectual challenge for students, where the only source of stress should be exams, coursework and trying to get your dissertation supervisor to email you back.

However, a greater challenge lies in store for many unsuspecting undergrads and graduates alike: navigating the private rental market. Dodgy flats, intrusive landlords, dishonest letting agents, draughty single glazed windows and often, as many students found out in the summer of 2021, an inability to find a place to stay in the first place. Unfortunately, the alternatives are limited. For those who are local to the area (and are sane enough to stand it) there is living at home, an option chosen both willingly and unwillingly by thousands of students every year. University administrated halls are also an option for first years and a handful of graduates but this constitutes only a minority of students. And so, the rest are abandoned to the whims of letting agents and private hall operators, the two terrible twins of the private market. But what if there was a real alternative that didn’t involve sneaking out from your childhood bedroom at 5 pm to commute to pres?

I sat down with Meli Vasiloudes Bayada from the Glasgow Student Housing Cooperative, an ambitious cross-university student housing organisation to find out: what could be done?

The aim of the co-op, she told me, is simple: to provide a cheaper and better quality alternative to private student accommodation, by effectively purchasing and occupying a property to be shared by their members. The members of the cooperative are in the process of searching for and buying a property (preferably with 10 or more bedrooms) considering possible sites like disused schools or care homes. They hope to acquire a property very soon and start renting out to members promptly.

But hold on. Most students can barely afford baked beans for their tea at the end of the month, how are they expecting to buy a multi-bedroom property? Well, the GSHC is a member of Student Co-op Homes: a multi-national “co-op of co-ops” comprised of seven other city-based student housing co-ops. Four of these co-ops (namely Birmingham, Brighton, Edinburgh and Sheffield) have properties while Bristol, Cork and Nottingham do not. Glasgow is among these non-housed coops, but that may be about to change with help of the national co-op which, when a suitable property is found, will step in to pay the down payment of a mortgage. So far, so simple. The mortgage payments will then be paid by the local co-op through the rents of their members living in the building until the loan is paid off and property is owned outright. Meli assures me that the rent will be affordable (between £300-£400 a month) which will be invested in mortgage payments as well as maintaining the property and contributing to the other purchase of properties for the other non-housed co-ops.     

While the GSHC’s current focus is ultra-practical, their ideal is not hard to discern. A world where students have a real choice between the private rental sector and housing co-ops for their housing needs.  Where landlords and corporations like Unite Students have to compete with horizontally run co-ops offering student-to-student accommodation with no profit motive or middlemen. Perhaps the Edinburgh Student Housing Co-op is an insight to the future, which offers 24 flats with 106 bedrooms to student members studying across the city, complete with social spaces, basement parties, communal activities and amenities, at very reasonable prices.

Important to the GSHC is their values as a cooperative which includes a strong commitment to non-hierarchical organisation highlighted by their lack of an elected president or alignment with any student union body like the SRC. Each member has an equal say in the running of the co-op and is free to participate as little or as much as they are able. Meli assures me that this is to the benefit of the eventual occupiers of the GSHC properties, who will not be tenants under the power of landlords but equals with the folk who manage and maintain the buildings in the co-op.  It will also benefit when there are potentially sticky situations (like noise complaints or rent arrears) where members will meet together and discuss as equals what the best way forward will be. Any big decisions within the co-op are made by consensus.

There are grand plans for the cooperative but even grander challenges ahead. While Meli hopes that the finding of a property will be imminent, there is yet no certainty of acquisition of a permanent home. Furthermore, while authorities have been broadly supportive of student housing co-ops- like in Brighton where it received a share of the government’s £163 million Community Housing Fund and formal support from the city council, there has been no support for the GSHC from the government or Glasgow City Council. Geographic constraints also hinder progress with both Glasgow’s tenemental architecture and distance between universities restricting suitable locations, Meli admits that they’d be willing to compromise the number of bedrooms in their first property to below ten bedrooms just to get a foothold in the Glasgow housing market, but then that would be a stepping stone for further expansion to other larger properties in the city.

But the future looks bright for the Co-op. Supported by a strong national organisation and surrounded by successful sister projects in Edinburgh and elsewhere, it is only a matter of time before they can turn the dream of a mutualist student-run housing co-op into a reality. Of course, this all takes time and support. Meli emphasises the importance of bringing in new members to help progress the project, who will not only join a friendly and social group of like-minded people but also will have the opportunity to learn life skills and gain experience participating in a multi-national social movement.  

The invitation is open. There has also been so much progress since they were founded 2016 and any new members will carry on this great work to hopefully getting a property and beyond. So, whether you love to have a moan about your landlords, are despairing about the state of student housing availability as the universities grow larger but the city stays the same, or just really hate living with your parents and wished there was an affordable alternative to private rent, then the GSHC is great way to act on your concerns and help build a cheaper and safer home on campus for both yourself and the students who come after you.

The Glasgow Student Housing Cooperative can be contacted by:

Email: glasgowstudenthousingcoop@gmail.com

Facebook: facebook.com/glasgowstudenthousingcoop

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GSHCoop

Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/glasgowstudenthousingcoop/.

Their Annual General Meeting is on May 13th at 6 pm for all to attend if interested, all details can be found in the links above.

[Luke Hills- he/him] [Image Credit- Glasgow Student Housing Co-op]

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