Over 150 students at University College London (UCL) are refusing to pay student hall rent in protest of “soaring” accommodation prices.
The striking UCL students risk eviction but say university halls have become unaffordable. Protestors are demanding a 40% rent cut so that UCL no longer profit from student housing.
According to UCL Cut the Rent (CTR) students are on indefinite rent strike, “collectively withholding” more than £250,000 after management failed to respond to their written correspondence over accommodation costs.
— UCL Cut The Rent (@rentcutUCL) January 25, 2016
Protesters claim the average rent for a person at UCL has gone up by more than 50% since 2009, making even the cheapest rooms more expensive than student loan payments.
According to the fees listed, one of the student’s hall in question – Ramsay Hall – has rooms that charge from £159 to £262 per week and the cheaper Max Rayne House charging £103 to £232.
— CommonSpace (@TheCommonSpace) January 26, 2016
CTR maintain this brings in annual profits of 45% – £15,779,000 – for the University. CTR asserts these are “tuition fees by stealth” where students are pushed deeper into debt and poverty – many unable to focus on their studies with demands to find insecure, part-time work.
CTR are calling upon UCL management to end the exploitation of student tenants and immediately effect a 40% rent cut.
A UCL spokesperson said: “UCL Estates is actively seeking dialogue with the Cut the Rent campaign so that we can discuss the issues and set out how the finances of UCL accommodation work.”
UCL refute the statement from CTR and “it is inaccurate to suggest that UCL is making a profit for the university.” Figures sent to Westminster World confirm that with additional capital spending on accommodation, UCL has been running a year on year deficit from housing costs over the past five years.
The University continued: “We make every effort at UCL to keep rents as low as possible, which is a difficult challenge considering our central London location. Our rents are competitive in comparison with equivalent London institutions, and far less than rates for comparable accommodation in the private sector”.
One of the strikers, Nyima Murry, 19, said: “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. The housing situation in London has to be made affordable: Landlords have refused to cut the rent, so we have no option but to do it ourselves. Hopefully, we can inspire others to do the same.”
The Radical Housing Network, based in London, fighting for housing justice, is planning a protest march in solidarity with the #UCL student #rentstrike for Saturday 30th from Imperial War Museum to Downing Street concerning a new Housing Bill being rushed through parliament.
Given the severity of the housing crisis, activists believe action is required with a higher priority for the government. The fight for fair housing affects people far beyond the university campus.