The NE Fife Area Committee’s decision to uphold the HMO ban and to limit the number of licenses throughout St Andrews should be opposed at all costs. Firstly, it doesn’t work. Secondly, if the council are unable to realise that their blatantly nimby and anti-student policy doesn’t work, we should campaign electorally to elect more students to the council.
The councils aim is to keep rents low for families. However, the HMO ban only serves to drive up rent. By refusing to licence properties, properties that may very well fulfil the health safety requirements that the licence was originally meant to allow for, larger properties have empty rooms locked up, while students take the remaining couple of rooms in the property. This does not fulfil the council’s aim of allowing locals to live in the centre of St Andrews. All that happens is students, who, because we split the rent between us, and because we want to be close to the university and are prepared to pay premium to do so, pay higher rents that families cannot afford.
Furthermore, because properties that would be perfectly viable for rental to students cannot be licensed, students are pushed further out from the centre of town. Out of town and in to housing that is much more suitable for families, which instead get HMO licences. It also drives up the rents because there is a limited supply of property available. This increase in rents does not just affect students, but also families: it is in the landlords interest to earn the maximum return from their property, and if getting an HMO licence allows them to do this they will do so. The result is a situation that helps nobody apart from the landlords. Students have to pay a fortune in rent and local families are pushed out of town.
This has a further impact on property prices in the town. As rents are so high relative to property values, it makes sense, especially given the low interests rates on mortgages available, for buy to let landlords and families of richer students to buy property in the town. This is of course of interest to the freeholders among the local population, who get richer as a result of there being more demand for their properties. So freeholders in St Andrews have a vested interest in the HMO ban, as it indirectly serves to drive up the value of their own properties, further pricing locals out of the market who cannot compete with professional buy to let investors, or wealthy parents who can spare £100,000 for a down payment on a mortgage.
The HMO ban shows a blatant disregard of students in favour of nimbyism. The council have a duty to everyone in the town not just those who have lived here for a long time. If you were to replace the word student with immigrant, this behaviour would be unacceptable and condemned as segregationist. It is just that, and the fact it blatantly targets students means that Fife Council should not get away with it.
The University and its students bring huge levels of wealth and prosperity to the town. The the town should not abuse that privilege, but welcome it. As Lewis Wood’s puts it in his statement as part of the Unions anti-HMO licence campaign: “The decision taken today was not taken in a communal spirit. It was a decision that took into account the desires of ‘local’ people only, and not the asks of a student body struggling with an expensive and poor-quality private accommodation sector.” The town should remember that we do not call for a town vs gown conflict, but for the two to work together.
The solution on our part is to make clear to the council are opposition to the HMO ban. To do this everyone who can must register to vote in local elections. That means everyone who holds a Commonwealth passport or European citizenship should register to vote. We also need to get more students elected to the council. The first step is for more of us to put ourselves forward in local elections, and then we should vote for students. We should also write to our local councillors and Scottish Parliament member Willie Rennie.