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Brighton Journal | July 17, 2019

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Could building more student accommodation free up space for families?

Could building more student accommodation free up space for families?
Lauren Nicolle

With over 21,000 students at the University of Brighton and over 18,000 students at the University of Sussex, Brighton currently has the largest student population the city has ever seen. As the number of students continues to grow and major developments take place on and off campus to accommodate these students, it must be questioned – is enough really being done?

The University of Sussex is currently in the process of building a new on-campus student village, that will provide 2,100 new bedrooms. The University of Brighton is also undergoing major construction on their Moulsecoomb campus, which will provide 800 new bedrooms as well as multiple academic buildings and a fitness centre. However, these units are primarily for first year students. When students reach their second academic year, they are expected to find a student property in Brighton’s city centre. This puts a great deal of pressure on the town – as the student population grows, the demand for housing increases. Over recent years, this has pushed the cost of rent up and the standard of properties down.

Paolo Sanna, the lettings manager at Sussex Student Lettings said:

“Demand massively outweighs supply. The council is challenged with lots of demand for housing, but Brighton is geographically challenged. On one side, there is the sea and on the other, the South Downs – the national park.”

The lack of space for expansion has produced a very competitive housing market, allowing landlords to increase rent prices while lowering standards. Mr. Sanna is flooded by complaints from students who feel as though they are spending far more than they should be, as they are forced to pay high costs for sub-standard properties.

Twenty-two-year-old Alice Taylor, a law student at the University of Sussex said:

“It’s really hard to find a good quality property in Brighton – a house that is affordable but also up to a decent standard. The cost of living in Brighton is also very expensive, my student loan barely covers two months of rent.”

The high demand for housing in Brighton has been particularly beneficial to student landlords, as they are able to earn large sums of money from properties, without doing any maintenance or renovation work.

Gary Waller has been a student landlord since 1984 and is currently the chair of the Brighton branch of the landlords association. He said:

“A landlord can make roughly a quarter more per annum by letting to students, rather than letting to a family. For this reason, the demand for student housing has softened. This year, for the first time ever, there was an over-supply of private sector student properties.”

From this perspective, it seems the general trend is one of more and more housing for students. However, this has caused concern amongst local members of parliament, as areas such as Moulsecoomb and Bevendean find families unable to find homes. This is due to the financially driven desires of landlords and property developers to let to students.

Dick Page, a Ward councillor and Green Party MP said:

“One undesirable outcome is that the viability of several primary schools is at risk, due to the population and demographic imbalance.”

The housing crisis in Brighton is one surrounded with controversy and confusion. As the student population expands, inevitably, an increasing number of students will need off-campus homes. However, providing too many student houses will push families out of the city and put local schools at risk of closing.

Emma Daniel, the Chair of the Neighborhoods, Communities and Equalities Committee suggests that purpose-built and managed student accommodation needs to be built in order to house students and free up properties for families.

This seems like a well-rounded plan, that suits the needs of both students and families. Ms. Daniels said there are on-going developments around the Vogue Gyrator, Mithras House and Preston Barracks that will provide a great many student flats.

She explained:

“Despite the gap between need and purpose built and managed accommodation for students, I think that a lot is happening to meet that gap. Though, at the same time the universities are expanding so that goal post is moving.”

However, this accommodation must be made affordable. The new accommodation at Vogue Gyrator, aptly named Vogue Studios, costs £265 per week for a 51 week tenancy. This works out at an overall cost of over £13,000 per year, which is unaffordable for the majority of students.

Thus, although purpose-built and managed off-campus accommodation is being built for students, it is being done so at a slow rate and is lacking in affordability. Until affordable accommodation is built, students will continue to live in private sector properties, in order to pay cheaper (yet still expensive) rent. While students continue to live in these properties, landlords will continue to exploit these students: forcing them to pay extortionate prices for below-par houses.

Elizabeth Jefferies, the Senior Communications Manager for Campus Development at the University of Sussex said:

“Our long term aim is to provide on-campus housing for 40% of our students and we are currently looking at the options available to us for further redevelopment and expansion of student accommodation on the west side of campus in the future.”

However, this still leaves 60% of Sussex students to find houses off-campus, as well the students at the University of Brighton, leaving the majority of the student population in Brighton unhoused.  Considering the concerns voiced by local MPs, university students and estate agencies across Brighton, it seems as though not enough is being done to satisfy the needs of Brighton’s student population.

In order to improve the current climate: affordable, purpose-built student accommodation needs to be built, there need to be more regulations for landlords and greater protections from rent rises. If the cost of rent continues to increase, students should receive larger maintenance grants from the government in order to make higher education become a realistic option for all those who could benefit from it, rather than those who can afford it.

 

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