Louise Richardson, principal and vice-chancellor of the University, has claimed that there is no housing crisis. Yet last year, as every year before, we have been reminded that there was a crisis through the medium of Facebook groups, angry YikYaks and even a small demonstration. It was all terrifically exciting. So if it isn’t a crisis, what could Principal Richardson think it is?
Perhaps she is right, and the word ‘crisis’ is too strong. After all, having to walk in the rain in order to get to Boots isn’t exactly on a par with the Gaza strip is it? The fact is that the housing issue is exactly that: an issue. In spite of the slightly patronising assertion that people are working themselves into a ‘tizzy’, I do feel that people are making a mountain out of a mole hill.
There seems to be an obsession with living as close to town as possible, but where do you live at home? I’m sure that some of you will indeed live close to the centre of some throbbing metropolis, where you stumble out of your door directly into a cultural melting pot, replete with markets, shops and the general to and fro of the big city, but I am sure that many of you live some walk from the closest place to buy a pint of milk or stock up on cheap burgundy.
Why is it that when put in a place far smaller than many of us originally come from there seems to be some sort of necessity to be a fireman’s pole away from the nearest caramel latte? I won’t lie, I would be annoyed if I were to live some way out of town, not least because lectures are struggle enough to get to without having to strap on your hiking boots in order to make it down in time for the beginning of the presentation. But it really is something which we must simply cope with. It is not ideal but the fact is that you cannot change the size of the town. It is not well stocked on the housing front, but that is simply the fact of it.
Not only that but she also goes on to tell us that there are 376 beds available across two private halls with 155 vacant in university accommodation. While certainly it is not ideal to live in accommodation under jurisdiction of the notorious fun police, known as wardens, the fact is that there ARE beds to be had in accommodation provided by the university, many of which solve the apparent issue of proximity to the bustling epicentre of St Andrews, with its single fountain and numerous ubiquitous paragons of high street consumerism. It is not necessarily a solution, but it is an option if one is as desperate as those who are to be heard loudly proclaiming ‘I may as well move to Dundee mate’. Well go on then, it’ll probably be more fun anyway. There’s a McDonald’s. In truth though there is no doubt an issue, I feel that Louise Richardson is right to hold back on naming it a crisis, though doing so does smack slightly of washing her hands of the situation before swanning off south to the considerably more numerous streets of Oxford. It is not yet a crisis. There are not people living on the streets, nor are there a large number of people living in places which are genuinely only accessible by bus or car. But if the university does not act soon it could well turn into one.
It is likely to be a cornerstone of what the next Principal concerns themselves with, and it has not been helped by some of the mind-numbingly stupid ideas which have been given the go ahead; not least the opening of the private accommodation at Ayton House, which will no doubt continue to be a hilarious example of the ineptitude of the council and the Student Housing Company for some time, or the decision to raise the number of students accepted to the University without also raising the number of rooms on offer. But right now we are not yet at the tipping point. Some of the issues really have been exaggerated, and while the current system could use some streamlining (something to get rid of those queues for a start), it has been slightly overblown at times. With a bit more sense from the university regarding the matter, the problems can be solved before it has a chance to become a genuine crisis.
My walk into town only takes about fifteen minutes, and it gives me time to think and listen to music and get a little bit of extra exercise. But throw five heavy history books and a computer in my bag and I’m much less content with my walk. Then add maybe one bottle of wine, one jug of milk and a tub of ice cream and I get even less happy (it’s probably why I bought the ice cream in the first place).
As a student who cannot afford to have a car, cannot afford to take a cab everywhere and also cannot afford to live closer to town, I have found myself living further away out of necessity. And this is due to the housing crisis that is currently taking over our tiny town.
Sure, you find people once in a while who get a great deal right in town, but that is extremely rare. The sheer amount of luck required to get the flat you actually want is unrealistic and you hardly ever hear stories of people who ended up with exactly the price they were looking for. During the housing rush of February 2015, I found the perfect flat on Greyfriars for an actually reasonable price because I was splitting it with someone. We jumped on it immediately. We were the first people to view it, the first to submit our application, and the first people to interview for it. But guess what? We didn’t get it. I still don’t know what went wrong or how it could possibly be that when you are there first and the process is on a first come first serve basis, you still might not get the one you want.
This example demonstrates the four key problems in St Andrews’ housing market today. For one, there are simply not enough properties for every single student to live in or near town. The student population grows every year and the housing industry is having a hard time keeping up. This issue is even present in the library where, because of an increase in students, there are literally not enough seats for everyone who needs to go. Even the bathrooms aren’t sufficient.
Secondly, because there are not enough properties, letting agents are given a huge amount of power over students. On our side it is mostly chance. Sure, you need to get your references in and everything but after that it’s all about luck. In the real world obviously letting agents still make those decisions, but usually you will be one of maybe five people applying, compared to here where you could be one of fifty. We’ve all seen those lines outside of the letting agents at 8am on a Monday morning, a trial usually reserved for Christmas Ball tickets.
Thirdly, pretty much everything you need is in the town centre. Yes, some of us live closer to Morrison’s than we do to Tesco or Sainsbury’s, but if you need to get a notebook or a library book, then a house on the outskirts of St Andrews or beyond is nothing but a disadvantage. This isn’t like the student housing you find in London or other cities where no matter how far you are from campus there will still be a study space, Tesco Express or a Ryman close to where you live. Also, if you did live far away in London you could at least have access to multiple cheaper public transport options.
Finally, with demand for housing so high, the prices sky-rocket. We have all heard a thousand times how much more it costs to live here than anywhere else in the UK (don’t even get me started on the US) but somehow the story never gets old, it only gets worse. The more students the university accepts, the worse the problem will get. It’s ridiculous how much cheaper it is to live only 15 miles away from town but, for the majority of students who need to come to town every day, this just isn’t feasible.
We all learn the hard way that we can’t always have the flat we fell in love with at the beginning of the housing season, but that doesn’t mean we should have to settle for the worst possible, and still most expensive option. This is a crisis, and something must be done.