With the cost of living constantly rising, finding housing in Edinburgh seems to have become a privilege for the few who are able to afford skyrocketing rents. Student housing is no different: we have all heard or read the stories of students desperate to find a place to call home without much luck. The University has failed to support its students, struggling to provide them with affordable housing options. By monetizing the basic need for housing, Edinburgh University and private landlords have continued to develop expensive new properties which contribute to the gentrification of the city centre and the displacement of local residents worsening the city-wide housing crisis. On the whole, it has been normalised for private landlords to profit from their tenants’ basic needs for shelter and housing.
In 2014 a group of students challenged this system by setting up Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative on the Bruntsfield links. In its eighth year of running, ESHC is home to 106 members making it the largest student housing co-op in the UK. It is owned and self-run by the people who live there through non-hierarchical democracy, with each person having a specific role that they are expected to carry out in order to help manage the successful day-to-day running of the co-op.
Each role falls under one working group – People, Participation, Procedures, Places, Finance, Welfare and Principle 6. They meet once a week to discuss ongoing agendas, while more significant decisions are brought as proposals to a bi-weekly general meeting. The co-op is run through consensus decision-making, meaning that each proposal has to be agreed upon by all of its members rather than reaching a mere majority. This approach reflects the co-op’s intention to practice a more humanized approach to housing which supports the smallest and traditionally marginalised voices in shaping the place and community where they live.
Through this system, members take on the responsibilities of a landlord by ensuring essential functions – such as managing rents, tenancies and repairs – and so much more, like building a sense of community and caring for each other’s wellbeing. Members can renovate and redecorate their flats as they please, keep pets and collectively contribute to the beautification of communal spaces like the basements, stairwells and garden. Recently they even won a sustainability award for their basement renovation project, during which co-op members transformed a cold car park into a warm communal space.
ESHC prides itself on providing community-focused and affordable housing as an alternative to the greed of private landlords. Rent is currently set at £366 including utilities and basics such as toilet paper, demonstrating how low the cost of housing could be if no one were to profit from it. Even though the co-op’s long-term goal is to buy the building from its owner, for now, a part of the rent which members pay goes towards the lease on the building. The rest makes up a shared budget that is used for energy bills, renovations and repairs, buying new appliances when necessary, role training for members and social events.
ESHC has just opened up applications for new members to join the co-op in January 2023. You can find more information about their open day and their application process on their website.