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UCL students withhold rent in response to soaring housing costs

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Over 150 residents in two University College London halls have declared an indefinite rent strike, withholding over £250,000 worth of rent until their demands of a 40% price cut are met.

UCL Rent ProtestAccording to campaigners, UCL has increased the median rent by 56% since 2009, yielding a 45% profit, £15,799,000, for the University each year.

This, they say, undermines poor students’ access to higher education, especially when situated in the context of scrapping maintenance grants and proposals for further increases to tuition fees.

UCL Cut The Rent see their proposed 40% rent cut as a ‘social’ rental rate; more manageable for students from low-income backgrounds, and allowing access to higher education for all, regardless of their financial capabilities.

They believe that lower rents will diversify UCL’s student body by encouraging more prospective students to apply, allowing equal access for equal talent.

Rents in UCL halls of residence are among the most expensive in the country; self-catered single rooms start at £135.59 per week, while catered single rooms start at £172.34.

Students on rent strike in Campbell House pay between £123.55 and £174.58 for self-catered accommodation, while those in Max Rayne House pay £102.97 to £232.40, depending on whether they choose twin or single rooms, or a one-bed flat.

Last year, Campbell House residents for the year 2014/15 were refunded a full term’s rent by UCL, worth £1,368 per student, while former Hawkridge House residents received £1,197 each, as compensation for the unliveable and “unacceptable” conditions in the halls.

UCL management apologised to both sets of residents, and awarded Hawkridge House residents for 2015/16 an additional 25% rent cut.

David Dahlborn, one of the organisers of the strike, explained why the Cut The Rent campaign at UCL has progressed since their last successful campaign.

One major improvement, he said, is that the strike is better organised this time around. “There are lots of people volunteering with the campaign, well over 100 strikers, and we have been much more efficient at uniting renters.”

He also feels that the aims of the campaign are now more inclusive, and have appealed to a wider cross-section of society. “Last time was focused on living standards – which are important, but made the whole thing seem like a ‘students’ issue’. In fact, rent is everybody’s problem. London and the UK are facing a housing catastrophe that is driving tens of thousands of families from their homes and socially cleansing swaths of the capital.” 

The main discrepancy with these halls in the past has been that UCL Estates did not fulfil their end of the contract. Residents alternately complained of mice and cockroaches in the building, a lack of hot water, and constant construction noise that disturbed study.

This time around, however, they have focused principally on students’ inability to fund their rental costs. 

Rent striker Nyima Murry commented, “Many people I know are put off moving to London because they can't afford to study here. I'm striking so that future students have the opportunity to study at UCL on academic merit, not financial background.”

Dahlborn added: “By focusing solely on rent we are doing two things: bringing the to the fore on the national agenda of pressing political issues, and demonstrating a sustainable solution and alternative – grassroots unionisation of renters that can control the profits made by landlords and property developers.”

The campaign cited research by Shelter, which shows that 53% of tenants in London struggle to pay rent, and that it eats up 72% of their total income on average.

A statement by the campaign reads, “Whilst this dispute may be in the university, the exploitation of tenants by landlords is causing immeasurable suffering to millions: UCL Cut The Rent wish to be clear they stand in full support with wider campaigns for housing justice.”




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