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University under fire over rising rent costs

York Cut the Rent held a demonstration today calling for more affordable on-campus accommodation in the midst of a public dispute between the University and Sabbatical Officer over the setting of rent prices.

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Image Credit: Eamonn Byrne

There has been a widening disagreement between the students and their representatives with the University over the rise in prices of on-campus accommodation. A new group has formed on society, York Cut the Rent, who held a protest over the rent increases today in Greg’s Place. There has also been a dispute between YUSU Sabbatical Officers and the University concerning their role in setting accommodation prices.

This is following a rent increase for the next academic year with the average campus rent rising to £153 per week, with the cheapest room costing £109 a week and the most expensive room costing £190. This academic year the average campus rent is £148. As Community and Wellbeing Officer, Steph Hayle, pointed out in a Facebook post, the maximum student loan is £8700 a year, or £167 per week, which leaves an average of £14 a week remaining.

Students have been expressing their dissatisfaction with University of York accommodation through the hashtag #rentrant. As well as anger over pricing, students are also dissatisfied with the quality of the accommodation as students complain of silverfish infestations, a lack of heating and issues with damp and flooding. Circuit Laundry has also been attacked as overly expensive and inadequate, with many people reporting broken machines, clothes coming out marked or clothes not drying fully.

Hayle and the York Cut the Rent campaign also emphasise the negative impact on mental health, and physical health, as a consequence of the financial stress of the high living costs at the University. A representative from York Cut the Rent said to Nouse that their aim with the demonstration is to: “engage a large number of students with the campaign.” And that their “ultimate goals are to cut and freeze rents, increase mental health support, democratise university decision making, and have half of all accommodation £100 a week or less by 2025.”

Union President James Durcan expressed his opinions on the rent increase in an Open Letter to the new Vice Chancellor stating that “We must find a way to stop this as it becomes less and less affordable for some to choose to study at York”, citing continual price increases, oft above inflation, and the increase of premium accommodation. The University makes around £5 000 000 profit from accommodation per year, according to the latest HESA Statistics.

The University gave a statement to That’s York TV when discussing York Cut the Rent, stating: “Rent at the University of York is set by the University Rents Group which includes representation from the two Students’ Unions.”

Union President, James Durcan, stated in a Facebook post that this statement by the University is “blatantly false”, citing the terms of reference of the ‘Rents Group’ which state that the group “make recommendations” on annual rents rather than set them.

The University Executive Board has the final say on the rate of on-campus accommodation, and the ‘Rents Group’ acts in an advisory capacity and does not have the final say on rent prices. Student Officers argue that the University have sole responsibility for their unaffordability and poor living conditions of accommodation on campus and that the concerns of the Union are being ignored.

Durcan said to Nouse: “Having spent all year firmly making the case to the Uni for the need for more affordable lets, improvements to the worst quality rooms and a fairer allocation, we were right to go off on one about the false statement they published! The University Executive Board, which has no student representation, makes the decision on rent proposals each year.

“Accommodation prices are going through the roof year on year, forcing students into excessive hours of part-time work, or even worse, preventing them from joining York in the first place - and we need drastic action now!”

Durcan added that: “student reps have been very clear throughout extensive meetings that we are not willing to make any recommendations to UEB that do not include more affordable lets, that we require assurances about improvements in the worst quality accommodation, that we expect increased transparency in accommodation allocations and that we demand an affordability policy.”

When questioned on the accuracy of their original statement to That’s TV York, a spokesperson for the University denied that it was misleading at all or had the potential to be misunderstood. A spokesperson from the University commented to Nouse: “UEB has final sign off on rent proposals set by the University Rents Group, which includes student representation”

They reiterated that student representatives do act in an advisory capacity and influence the setting of rent prices: “The recommendation for rent price that are presented to UEB each year are worked on collaboratively by a range of stakeholders including representatives from YUSU and the GSA. As part of this process every member of the rents group has multiple opportunities to express their opinions and make suggestions which in turn influence the UEB.

"We continue to work with elected student representatives from YUSU and GSA, and have held four workshops to date, which have covered benchmarking of our rents using external sources, agreeing joint priorities, competitor and city analysis, and responding to any issues raised by YUSU and GSA”.

York Cut the Rent remain unhappy with the University’s statement and their lack of action on decreasing rents: “They had an opportunity to talk about student experiences but instead they chose to lie. We stand with the YUSU officers in calling their response for what it was. We can’t be constructive with management when they disrespect students by lying to their faces.

They clearly stated students were involved in rent setting. This is not the case, as they well know.” They are pleased, however, with the response of YUSU in lobbying the University for improved accommodation.

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