If you're a fresher-to-be worried about your rent taking up nearly all of your student loan, then you're in luck. On Thursday, at a press conference in Shoreditch, the National Union of Students called for a wave of nationwide student rent strikes, as housing campaigners called high rents a "tuition fee by stealth".
The NUS is demanding fair rent structures, within which 25 percent of beds are priced at a maximum of 50 percent of available student finance
Things kick off September the 16th to the 18th, when activists from UCL Cut the Rent and the Radical Housing Network will host a weekend training event. Titled "Rent Strike // Weekender!", it looks set to be a series of Rent Strikes for Dummies type workshops, rather than an extended warehouse party.
NUS will be providing logistical and financial support to the training, as well as trying to convince students and student union officers to come on down.
In June, thousands of rent strikers at UCL declared victory after they won rent freezes and concessions worth over £1,000,000.
But that victory comes against a bleak backdrop. NUS research published earlier this week shows that 60 percent of graduates from the £9,000 fee regime also have consumer debts averaging £2,600; in addition to their student debts. A three-year undergraduate degree can leave students borrowing as much as £53,000.
But at least young students can rely on totally great job prospects to sort this out when they graduate. Right?... Right? The NUS report, entitled Double Jeopardy, also revealed that almost half of the graduates had moved back in with their folks to save money, so I guess not.
NUS Welfare Officer Shelly Asquith commented, "The fact so many are now involved in political action at personal risk, demonstrates a collective hope of bringing about change for the benefit of all students."
As welfare officer, was she worried about the welfare of rent-striking students putting themselves in the cross hairs of debt collectors and bailiffs? "I think where institutions are threatening eviction, we have to be quite hard in shaming them," she said. "There's a duty of care universities have to support their students and there's no way they should be pushing them out onto the street for taking part in political actions. Perhaps we could look into doing stuff around evictions resistance." She added that threats of eviction tend to be mere threats.
Ben Beach from the Radical Housing Network said, "When so many now find themselves trapped in poverty due to the rising costs of housing, it is becoming increasingly clear that rent strikes will form a vital part of resistance to the housing crisis."
He also called rent a "tuition fee by stealth" – basically universities are topping up their funding by exploiting a captive audience.
Chloe Pelas, a student at Goldsmiths currently on rent strike, was told the news by VICE and she was pretty happy about it: "It can't be anything but a good thing for the NUS to back striking," she said. "The point of university is to become independent but it's working in the reverse. I'm more financially dependent on my parents now than when I was at school."
"That's amazing!" said another, choosing to remain anonymous. "I've been speaking to lots of my friends who are at different unis about our rental strike," she continued. "They've all been saying the same sort of things, like rat infestations. They said they'd wished they got involved in striking. Now it's more of a public thing, it's being supported by a much bigger organisation, it'll be easier for people to stand up by themselves, stand up for their rights. It's much less scary for people if they're being supported by something just as big as a private company."
The action is quite a radical departure for an NUS that in the past has been accused of failing to support students campaigning against tuition fees. So, look out for a Daily Mail exposé where they send a young reporter to the "weekender" to write a story about crazed young extremists at a shadowy event. I'm also predicting some thinkpieces about how doing something about the housing crisis will further prove how disastrously out of touch the NUS's new leadership is. And maybe, just maybe, watch out for thousands of students refusing to pay rent and striking a blow against their grasping university landlords.
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