Student housing for homes – not profit

Student housing is going up all over Brighton – but very little is in the students’ control. Photo credit: Hassocks5489 / CC0

In the face of Brighton’s housing crisis, imaginative solutions are required – and two local groups have found one. The Brighton and Hove Community Land Trust (BHCLT) has launched a share offer to purchase its first property which it will lease to SEASALT, a student housing co-operative.

The share offer, which closes on 31 October, is designed to fund sustainable alternative accommodation in a city where student housing is too often used to maximise profit, rather than to provide young people with homes. By taking the property out of the private rental market, BHCLT and SEASALT aim to create an affordable place for students to live, making student life less transient and encouraging students to be more rooted in their local community. BHCLT hopes that the scheme will blaze a trail for other groups who need affordable housing.

SEASALT chair Simin Wadiwala said that the partnership with BHCLT is designed to give students more autonomy. “Gaining funding is the first step to enable us to regain control over our housing conditions in a way that cares for the wellbeing of students and the environment,” she added. While standard student lets are often short-term, SEASALT is looking to create longer-term tenancies that encourage students to take more responsibility for their own homes. “There’s so much that you can learn with a bit of autonomy and a bit of a long-term thinking.”

Members of SEASALT: Photo credit: SEASALT

BHCLT investment co-ordinator Helen Bartlett said that she hoped that the project would become a model for other groups in Brighton that desperately need affordable housing. “Housing problems in Brighton are endemic,” she said. “We have a massive homeless population, but we also have a situation in which key workers can’t afford to live in their city,” she said. “People who do jobs that are so fundamental – we’ve seen that with Covid – most of them can’t afford to live in our city. And so what we’re trying to do is to show that there are different ways to do things, and one of those ways is to take property out of the market, and stop making it a source of speculation and profit.”

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It sounds like a great idea – but how will it be paid for? Bartlett said that Brighton was the perfect place for such a project. “We have some incredibly wealthy people, but it’s also quite a left-leaning city, with people who recognise that housing isn’t fair, that their kids will struggle to rent depending on their job. Our share offer is trying to mobilise around that concern: for people who feel lucky in their housing position, and are prepared to invest to create housing for groups who need them.” BHCLT says that investors should expect to receive a 3 per cent annual return on their investment, as well as the knowledge that they are contributing to a fairer housing market in Brighton and Hove.

The housing market was already in crisis before coronavirus, and the challenges are even greater now. As Sussex Bylines has already reported, it seems that the government’s new planning rules will not benefit local communities. And cash-strapped local authorities are not well placed to solve the crisis. Fresh thinking is clearly required, and groups like BHCLT and SEASALT are providing it. As in so many other ways, the future is here in Brighton now.

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