With a shortage of places in halls of residence, the Students’ Association is hoping that its newly introduced accommodation viewing service will help more students to find private housing.
The Private Accommodation Viewing Service (PAVS), which launched in July, employs a team of student volunteers who view accommodation on behalf of others. This is necessary because most private letting agencies in St Andrews require prospective tenants to view a flat in person before they can sign a lease, but this causes difficulty for some groups.
“In many circumstances, such as those faced by international students who have yet to arrive in St Andrews let alone the country, this step of the letting process is unfeasible and poses a significant barrier in securing private accommodation,” said Pat Mathewson, the Association president, who championed the service following discussions with letting agencies around St Andrews.
He also pointed to the “particularly acute” difficulties faced by entrant students seeking private accommodation, owing to their unfamiliarity with the town.
Students wishing to make use of the fledgling service are asked to contact Sarah Gimont, the SRC accommodation officer, who is in charge of PAVS’ logistical running. So far, 28 people have used the service through a team of 10 volunteers.
“My role in this is putting together a team of volunteers – which is already quickly growing – who are currently in St Andrews and available to view flats,” said Ms Gimont. “When requests for a viewing come in, I match them up with a volunteer so that the student can proceed with their lease.
“I’m very excited about the scheme so far, and have already successfully matched people up. I think the program will be extremely effective, especially since the letting agencies are on board.”
Ms Gimont said that PAVS is largely intended to aid postgraduate students, for whom finding accommodation can be particularly difficult because “many incoming [postgraduate] students are unaware of our town’s general housing timeline – i.e. most people finding next year’s accommodation in the winter – and many are unable to visit St Andrews until the start of term.”
Though enthusiastic about the scheme, Ms Gimont recognises that far more work is still needed to solve students’ accommodation problems. She said: “Ultimately, PAVS isn’t supposed to be a cure-all and the Association will work to address the accommodation situation in St Andrews more broadly this year.”
Mr Mathewson said PAVS will be the first in what he promises to be a fuller series of actions to tackle St Andrews’ housing problems. He said: “We don’t consider the programme a panacea, it is but a small part of what will be a larger effort on behalf of the Association to improve the accommodation experience in St Andrews.”
One of those volunteering for PAVS is Charlotte Andrew. Having already viewed and reported back on one flat, she explained that she was motivated to help through sympathy with students struggling to find housing.
“I think a lot of students see postgraduates as slightly separate to the rest of the student population… The overwhelming motivation was probably the thought of how I’d feel in the situation those postgraduates are in – not being able to view flats yourself before signing a lease must be a nightmare!
“Given how ridiculous the usual search for flats is in St Andrews, deciding from abroad and after almost everyone else has their accommodation can’t be an enjoyable experience. Having some photos, a recommendation from a fellow student and a team of people at the University who are really trying to make the whole process run smoothly is (hopefully) reassuring for all the future St Andreans.”
Garrett Corpier, 21, will begin an MLitt in September. Currently living in Little Rock, Arkansas, and busy hosting academic workshops at the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, he did not apply for University accommodation in St Andrews until early June. This proved too late to secure him a place despite an application deadline of 30 June, so he had to turn to private accommodation.
“I had my eye on one particular flat from the beginning: a perfect match, centrally located and just the right size for a single person. I was given Sarah Gimont’s contact by Accommodations. I emailed her and asked her to view the flat which had, unfortunately, already been let.”
Two weeks later, however, he received an email from Ms Gimont informing him that the flat had been reopened for applications and that she had already booked a viewing on his behalf.
“Within hours of the viewing she sent me eight photos, a detailed report of the flat, and a final conclusion – ‘Overall, a great single house for St Andrews’. Sarah’s review was comprehensive and succinct.”
Mr Corpier was able to submit his application straight away, and it was accepted. He has now put down a deposit and hopes to sign a lease imminently.
He said: “Overall, PAVS went above and beyond by contacting me when the flat was reopened. Since I live internationally, a viewing would have proved impossible, but, because of Sarah Gimont’s persistent attention to my situation, it seems as though my housing issue has been resolved.
“However, I am left to ponder what seems to be an accommodation crisis for postgraduate students and question what actions the University can take to resolve these bleak circumstances.”
Tania Strützel, the postgraduate convenor, defended the University and the Students’ Association in their efforts to help postgraduate students unable to secure University accommodation. She said that information was provided on housing outside of St Andrews – in places such as Dundee, Cupar and the East Neuk – since “postgraduates are more likely to commute and might even prefer to live out of town.”
She admitted that accommodation problems are an ongoing concern, however. “With the planned refurbishments of other University residences and the growing student population, it will of course be necessary to discuss the accommodation situation on a broader and long-term scale which we [the Students’ Association] will certainly follow up on.
“For this year, I believe we have provided adequate support to students looking for private accommodation and again, a significant number of postgraduates were placed in University accommodation.”
Postgraduate students have recently found themselves in more need of private accommodation than ever. University-owned postgraduate accommodation has been limited this year, with freshers being allocated spaces in Gannochy House and Eden Court and Fife Park being redeveloped.