MSP blames council’s HMO policy for student accommodation crisis

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Sstudents attending St Andrews University are experiencing difficulty in finding affordable accommodation in the town with some having to travel from as far as Dundee. Student representatives identified the closure of Albany Park Halls, demolished to make way for a new larger residence, as fuelling the accommodation shortage.

Speaking to the Dundee Courier, NE Fife LibDem MSP Willie Rennie said, “The housing market in St Andrews was already very hot as a result of the high demand and limited housing.” He acknowledged that the demolition of Albany Park was a contributory factor but went on to say that the problem was “compounded by the newish policy on houses in multiple occupation.”

Mr Rennie added ““I will be working with the campaign group, landlords and the university to find short-term and longer-term solutions” but made no mention of working with the town’s permanent residents who would be impacted by a relaxation of the policy which prevents any growth in the number of HMOs in the town.

A spokesperson for the Confederation of St Andrews Residents Associations’ (CSARA), which monitors the use of private homes to accommodate students, told QV that the organisation has written to Mr Rennie to remind him that the greatest need in St Andrews is for family homes, and that the University has undertaken to ease pressure on family homes by accommodating any increase in student numbers in purpose-built residences. There are already a 1000 or so Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) and they account for about one sixth of former private homes in the town.

The CSARA spokesperson went on to say that “an additional reason for pressure on student housing was the recruitment of 400 extra students over the University’s planned maximum of 10,000, who had deferred their admission in 2021 because of the Covid Crisis.”

A recent study by CSARA found that there had been a 1.3% decrease in HMO numbers since the inception of Fife Council’s HMO Overprovision Policy, and this appeared to be caused by HMO landlords deciding that Airbnb was a more lucrative market with less regulation and fewer costs. The increase in student numbers and the demolition of Albany Park was a more obvious reason for the students’ difficulties.

St Andrews has the highest student accommodation rents in Scotland. High accommodation costs are a deterrent for less affluent students and could be a contributory factor in St Andrews being one of the least diverse universities in the country.

Barry Will, a third-year student who helps to run Cash (St Andrews Campaign for Affordable Student Housing), said: “Because they’ve been knocking down affordable housing and not building any new ones quickly enough, it means the demand is sky high.

“All of the recent builds in St Andrews have been extremely expensive and many of them are three or four times more expensive than the old Albany Halls. They’re replacing what was affordable and functioning halls with luxury blocks of flats that only the wealthiest students can afford.”

He went on to say that the university should both reduce student numbers, and lower the existing cost of using the halls, “If that comes at a financial cost [to the university], that’s what it needs to be.”

A university spokesperson observed that St Andrews is one of the “most pressured housing areas in Scotland” and went on to say that more students are applying to live in halls of residence than ever before due to the “quality and value of living in university accommodation compared to the private sector”. We have comprehensive packages of financial support in place to assist students with accommodation costs.

“All applicants and new students to St Andrews are personally advised of the range and type of support available and have several opportunities to apply for assistance before they begin their studies.

“St Andrews already provides more beds per head of student population than any other university in the UK. A separate accommodation hardship fund is available to students and is advertised in halls of residence and communicated to all undergraduate and postgraduate students.”

The CSARA spokesperson pointed out that “St Andrews is the only University in Scotland where the student community outnumbers the local population and occupies such a large proportion of family homes including former social housing. This raises their purchase price and rental costs which become unaffordable for many families.”

“The HMO policy introduced in 2019 is designed to avoid an increase in HMOs numbers. The CSARA review of the impact of the HMO Overprovision policy has found that it has avoided an increase in their number and is helping to re-establish a more sustainable community.

“High accommodation costs are deterrent for less affluent students and could be a contributory factor in St Andrews being one of the least diverse universities in the country.”

CSARA has requested a meeting with Mr Rennie to brief him on the true causes of the housing pressures experienced in St Andrews but at the time of writing no such meeting has been scheduled.

St Andrews QV (Qui Vive) is an independent not-for-profit, non-political platform for news and debates about issues that are important to the Town. It exists to hold decision makers and public services to account while its editorial policy is to accommodate all shades of opinion from all parts of the community, prioritising evidence-based arguments. St Andrews QV is a member of the Independent Community News Network and is committed to the Community Journalism Charter

1 comment

  1. It’s time St Andrews University cut the number of students here. Sick of listening about all these poor students who fill the coffee shops & pubs.
    The residents get totally ignored & cannot get housing in their own town
    Students should NOT get priority over residents. We have had enough.

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