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Urte Macikene, VPS, campaigns for more affordable student housing

ByThurston Smalley

Feb 29, 2016

Urte Macikene, Vice President Services at Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA), is spearheading new efforts to rein in excessive student rents in the city.

The “Edinburgh Uni Cut the Rent” campaign, Macikene’s most recent foray into an area EUSA has identified as one of the key issues facing students in Edinburgh, is calling on the University to limit the cost of rooms in halls to 80 per cent of the annual Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) maintenance grant of £4,750.

It also aims for developers of student accommodation to designate 25 per cent of their new builds as “affordable”.

Under the Government’s new Private Tenancies Bill, the 25 per cent quota will apply to some accommodation developers, but the Bill’s language explicitly exempts student accommodation companies like Unite, which charge students up to £916 per month in rent.

Edinburgh has proven fertile ground for student accommodation companies, which benefit from a large market of students from moneyed families, lax regulation, and the Edinburgh City Council’s apparent lack of appetite for action on the issue.

In remarks to The Student, Macikene said: “Rent price inflation in Edinburgh over the last three years has been 17 per cent, an enormous amount compared to the Scotland-wide average of 3 per cent. 22 people are competing for every room in Edinburgh.

“Students, particularly international students, are one of the most vulnerable sectors in the housing market as they have little experience renting and often have no option but to take any housing available at the start of their course.”

Macikene accused the University and student accommodation companies of preying on students by charging rents that regularly meet or exceed the full SAAS maintenance grant, and announced a survey to launch as early as this week which would solicit students’ experiences renting in the city.

She said: “The baseline SAAS student support loan is £4,750 which amounts to £527/month during term-time. Meanwhile, the university is charging an average of £480/month for a single room for undergraduates, and £521/month for postgraduates.

“Private student housing developers are exploiting students even more brazenly, charging an average of £675/month for a room, while being exempt from city-wide regulations for 25 per cent affordable housing in new blocks of flats and the new Private Tenancies Bill with a host of regulations protecting tenants.”

Though her current campaign is more recent, Macikene has previously identified unreasonable rents as a defining problem in students’ lives at university.

In November 2015, she attempted to lobby Edinburgh City Council to adopt a definition of “affordable housing” which would encompass private companies dealing in student housing, thereby requiring such companies to adhere to mandatory quotas on affordable housing.

Edinburgh City Council, however, were unwilling to adopt such a definition, thus allowing companies such as Unite to ignore regulations on affordable accommodation.

Image credit: Dave Wood

By Thurston Smalley

Thurston is a final year French and politics student from Chertsey, England. He first wrote for his high school newspaper, The Phillipian, in 2009. He began writing for The Student in 2011, became News Editor in 2012, and Editor in Chief in 2015. He currently serves as President.

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