Currently in Northern Ireland the homeless population stands at an estimation of over 20,000 people categorised as needing immediate new housing under Housing Executive standard. This is alongside those individuals and families living in ‘housing stress’ that entails substandard conditions, overcrowding and sofa-surfing who are lost among the homeless figures. Housing Associations responsible for building social housing have for over a decade failed to meet their housing build quota whilst the private sector in Belfast and beyond has become the second most profitable area to ‘buy-to-let’ under UK jurisdiction. Meanwhile there are over 19,000 known homes vacant across Northern Ireland. Student accommodation, whether under university management or within the private sector, is grossly unaffordable and consumes almost entirely the sum of the average student maintenance loan. The failure to build social housing has produced an increasing dependence upon the private sector to house the homeless which in-turn has seen millions of public funds annually squandered into the bank accounts of private landlords. The increasing opportunities for short-term lets such as Air BnBs has further caused an unaffordable rise in rents as landlords pursue further profits. The profitably of the private sector has meant students, priced out of university halls, are left with no option but to rent within the private sector whereby they are positioned as cash-cows with little available rights.
That the fight for social housing is inalienable from the fight for suitable and affordable student accommodation.
The current housing system is built upon the incentive of profit, not provision, wherein landlords have been permitted to profit from an economically manufactured housing crisis. The monopolisation of housing within the ownership and management of a small collective of landlords and letting agents have facilitated a culture of neglect and corruption which has increased student poverty and ill-mental health.
This must be reversed! Housing should not be wielded as a commodity. There should be support and organise for increased social housing by demanding that councils start vesting vacant land and properties in order to bring them under public ownership and house homeless families.
Whilst students are forced to rent within a highly volatile, corrupt and unaffordable private sector, students’ unions must do their best to protect and advance the rights of student renters.
All student unions across Northern Ireland should support the promotion of tenants unions either through the establishment of their own Student Renters Group or physically and digitally support their local tenants union (eg; Belfast Housing Action). Tenants unions in the pursuit of countering illegal letting fees, deposit corruption, harassment, neglect, and unfair evictions are justified in commencing pickets, occupations, sit-ins, and rent strikes in-order to advance their goals.