QV has previously reported on the decision of councillor members of the Community and Housing Services (CHS) committee to cap the number of HMOs in St Andrews at current levels.
In today’s edition of The Saint, officers of the Student Association decry the decision and the Association President, Paloma Paige, goes so far as to suggest that councillors have ‘let down the youth of St Andrews’. By “youth of St Andrews”, QV understands her to mean the part-time student residents of the town rather than those children and young people brought up in the town – many of whom cannot afford to live in the town as adults due to soaring house prices fuelled in large part by the HMO free for all.
During the decision-making meeting of CHS earlier this month, research into locked and ‘underutilised’ rooms undertaken by the University and Student’s Association, and submitted to Housing Services as evidence of ‘wasted’ accommodation, was sharply criticised by Councillor Linda Holt who said, “It is amateurish, it has not been independently verified, it is not open to public scrutiny and it raises more questions than it answers as there are many reasons why not every room in a rented property is let out as a bedroom. It is no basis on which to make policy.”
Other councillors also spoke against the report, including Councillor Brian Thomson, who although not a member of the Committee, exercised his right to address the Committee. He said “The number of HMO properties in St Andrews has been further exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing in the town, by reducing the ability of many families to purchase or rent open market family housing, and significantly threatening the viability of St Andrews continuing to be a sustainable, mixed community”.
Outgoing Student Accommodation Officer Lucy Allatt, who led the research on locked bedrooms, responded to the criticism of her report by Fife councillors.
She said to The Saint, “The research that was carried out was not done as a quick fix. Many months before the survey was sent out, there was a lot of research done about the methodology behind making a survey. The survey was set out in a way that every student that answered it knew the definition of a privately rented property, locked bedroom and under-used rooms, meaning that all the responses that we gained fitted with the definitions that would be used in the report.”
Ms Allatt stated that the aim of questionnaire, which had a 25% response rate, was to “gain more of an insight into student housing within St Andrews.”
She continued, “It is disappointing that Fife Council reacted to the research in the way that they did. The research was not intended to just be of benefit to the university but to the wider town. It is highlighting a problem that is shown to be widespread and potentially wasting a lot of bedroom spaces within the town. I still hope that the research that was carried out will be able to be used in the future to compare the impact of the widespread issue of the HMO ban within St Andrews in the future with the current research that has been carried out.”
Referring to the decision to limit HMO numbers, outgoing President of the Students’ Association, Paloma Paige, said “It is my view, on behalf of the student body, that Fife Councillors have failed the youth of St Andrews who overwhelmingly asked for a three per cent HMO threshold.
“The phenomenon of ‘locked-off’ bedrooms has until now been only anecdotal. Nonetheless, it has had a detrimental impact on students’ experience living in private accommodation. The research commissioned by the University, which was based on a survey completed by nearly 25 per cent of eligible students, not only proved that this phenomenon is real, it also gave a clear indication of the scope and scale of the problematic practice”.
“I am proud of what the University and researchers have achieved here and every student who took part in the survey should also be proud. Councillors’ criticisms of the research do not change the results: over a hundred reports of wasted rooms.”
As the HMO policy in St Andrews will not be reviewed again for another three years, the Students’ Association is now tasked with finding alternative strategies in making student accommodation more affordable and accessible in the town. On this, Ms Paige added, “We need to ensure that properties are fully utilised. Prices are too high and competition for resources is too intense for us to ignore wasted rooms”.
“The new policy will be reviewed and its success measured over the next three years. I highly doubt that it will succeed and the Students’ Association continue its work advocating for students and for balanced evidence-based solutions.”