Over 120 of us students at Max Rayne House, one of the UCL halls located in Camden, are on rent strike. Supported by the campaign UCL cut the rent, we are demanding an immediate 40% cut in rent, transparency in rent-setting decisions and a long-term rent cap at UCL for future year’s students.
Max Rayne is actually one of the cheapest accommodations in UCL. This is why I’m living here. However, this fact doesn’t mean it’s affordable. AFFORDABLE, [ajd.], “That can be afforded (in various senses); (now usu.) inexpensive, reasonably priced”, according to Oxford English Dictionary.
Personally, I’ve got two loans to pay my rent (one public with a bank and a fixed interest of 0.90% and one private without interest) and my own savings from former jobs. I’m currently working as a baby-sitter to cover some of my expenses (e.g. 18+ monthly Bus & Tram which costs £56.10). If my parents are able to help me living in London, they can’t – and I do mean they can’t – pay my rent, which totals £5423.60 for an academic year (a single room, self-catered, at £135.59 a week). Is that ‘inexpensive’ or ‘reasonably priced’? Is that affordable?
My contract states that I’m paying the rent from the 19th September to the 25th June. These dates were given to me, I didn’t choose them. Of course, I can make a request to leave my accommodation earlier (a way to ‘save’ two weeks’ rent since UCL year officially finishes the 10th June) but in that case someone has to be found to replace me, otherwise I will pay the rent until the 25th June, even though I’m not staying in my room.
UCL management claims that these prices are justified because, in the words of Director of Estates Andrew Grainger: “UCL has ambitious plans over the next five years to refurbish and extend a number of student accommodation residences”. What really troubles me is that they are not planning to expand cheap – not to mention affordable – accommodation, like Max Rayne. Grainger gives the example of Astor College, which “will be redeveloped, starting in summer 2016”. Astor College costs £192,50 per week (single room like mine, but catered), way higher than Max Rayne rent, even without the cost of 10 catered meals per week, and it won’t be available for a long time, meaning we are made to pay for ‘refurbishments’ and expansions that we won’t see and even less benefit from.
The money that UCL management say is being ‘ploughed back into residences’, doesn’t necessarily change things for the better either. Let’s take a precise example: during mid-January 2016, the little signs with room numbers were changed on all the doors in Max Rayne. I asked why but nobody could give me the reason. The cost of this must be ridiculous, yet UCL accommodations call in a private firm and to pay its service engineers in order to change more than 300 plates without a well-founded reason is not what I call ‘every effort […] to keep rents as low as possible’ – with is what UCL would have us believe they are doing – and this is not the only case.
I’m striking because I want to be asked my opinion about UCL student accommodations. As students, we are the first ones to be affected and we can tell better than anyone what we need and what really matters for student accommodation. I’m striking because the rent is not ‘affordable’. The current prices exacerbate student debt and prevent many students from studying in London and at one of the best UK universities, which is a scandal. I hope UCL management will hear our concerns and understand our points.