There’s not a lot I can say about housing in St Andrews that you, dear reader, won’t know already. You’ll know about extortionate hall prices which keep St Andrews exclusive and elitist. You’ll know about students skipping meals to make rent. You’ll know about bad landlords, and unscrupulous letting agencies, about properties with leaking roofs, with boilers that burst in the middle of winter, with slugs and mice and black mold and all the rest of it. You’ll know the constant pall of anxiety that hands over second semester, as literally thousands of students scurry for shelter next year. Hell, you might have read about it in The Saint this week.
So, when I was planning this article, I thought I would focus less on the problems with St Andrews housing, and more on what’s caused them. The problem with that is, I need to stretch 600 words out of this article, but I can answer that question wiith only two:
Who’s responsible for the parlous state of St Andrews housing? Literally everyone.
First, look at Fife Council. HMO Ban. You probably know the story, but to reiterate- the HMO ban has hurt locals and hurt students, by making St Andrews less affordable. A report commissioned by Fife Council themselves has said as much. Even if you’re like me, and have never been interested in living in the centre of town, it’s still galling to see the town as a whole being screwed over like this. Even more galling is the most common excuse that Fife Council slings at us when we object to the HMO ban: that it’s the Universities job to provide St Andrews students with affordable housing, and that they have singularly failed to do that job.
And you know why that’s galling? Because it’s true. Because the University- as you probably know as well as me- have also failed us. Tearing down Albany Park, the only reasonably-priced Hall in St Andrews and replacing it with two, overpriced monstrosities. Prioritising high-end, high-rent rooms that nobody is asking for, over cheaper, more basic ones that everyone is. Now, it’s true that the University is trying to cover the cost of rising hall prices with bursaries, but these are often badly advertised, and hard to access. Now, you could argue that there’s only so much the University can do on this, and to an extent, you’d have a point. On one hand, refusing to let people apply to bursaries before they’ve accepted a place at University rather flies in the face of the Universities insistence they want to widen access, but on the other hand….
And here’s the most difficult part of this article. . Even if I’m not quite a union hack, I’m certainly hack-adjacent. I quite like the current Sabbs. I think random Union-bashing is dumb and unhelpful. That said, a lot of people active in, and around the union- and I include myself in this- have failed you too. Last semester, the Union rolled out a partnership with Marks out of Tenancy, which would have let students use tripadvisor style reviews to make the renting market more transparent. Would have, if anyone had signed up to it. Would have, if it had been properly advertised. But it wasn’t. In fact I’m not sure I can remember anyone from the Unionpromoting MooT since it was rolled out months ago. The same was true with the HMO campaign two semesters ago. Those of you who were there will have remembered the huge outcry against the Fife Council Decision to maintain the ban. The desire- fierce and urgent- to do something. If the union had been a little more nimble, it could have harnessed that energy for a sustained, long lasting campaign. I’m not saying it would have solved all our problems, but we could at least have kept the issue on the agenda. What did we do instead? Nothing for months and months, and then locked rooms survey issued in the middle of winter break, and not spoken about since. There is a consultation going around St Andrews residents as you read this asking about HMO numbers that could potentially have huge impact on the issue, and I wouldn’t have heard about it if it weren’t for the fact i’m Facebook friends with a local with…shall we say strong views on the subject. It’s entirely possible that we’re going to find out at the end of this semester that we’ve lost another fight we didn’t know was happening. Then we’ll get angry, there will be strongly worded petitions, the Accommodation Subcommittee will continue doing great work trying to fit the square peg of student shelter into the round hole created by the University and Fife Council….and then the people who should be leading the campaign will lose interest, and it’ll come to nothing.
It’s no wonder students are angry about housing. Fife Council has let you down. The University has let you down. The students union, with all it’s hacks and activists (again, including me) has let you down.
So, what are we going to do about it?