What is a HMO?
Local HMO Plans
Ten Point Plan
Leeds HMO Lobby
Use Classes Order
Taxation of HMOs
Students & Community
National HMO Lobby
Dr Richard Tyler
'Love Thy Neighbour'
Campus Life, #02, October 2007
Love thy neighbour as thyself is an exemplary exhortation
for community relations. But not much love is lost between town
and gown. Studentification is in the media, numerous conferences
have addressed the issue, and front line campaigners have set up
networks of residents, councillors and MPs.
Why does the ivory tower cast such a shadow over its host communities?
And what can we do about it? With the expansion of higher education
in the last decade, huge student colonies have developed in most
university towns. And residents in the host communities have lost
the ‘quiet enjoyment’ of their homes. No-one doubts
the good works done by student volunteers, but the vast majority
remain oblivious to their neighbourhood. The latest UNITE survey
(Student Experience Report 2007) finds that “half
of students consider themselves as part of the community.”
Of course, the other half does not. And of those who do, most think
that patronising local shops is enough.
Some problems arise directly from the student presence, some indirectly.
In the social sphere, student neighbourhoods suffer from endemic
low-level antisocial behaviour, mainly noise. But they also suffer
inflated crime – in which students are not perpetrators, of
course, but victims. Concentrations of student houses offer soft
targets and rich pickings. Meanwhile, as the local population changes,
school rolls decline dangerously.
The environment suffers too. Students are ‘rubbish at rubbish’!
And their cars congest the streets. Meanwhile, landlords (maximising
profits) either neglect their properties, or over-develop them.
Letting boards, flyposting, taxi horns, inflict street blight. The
economy changes too. The reality of the student pound is that student
demand promotes a resort economy - shopping centres are dominated
by letting agencies, bars, take-aways; other shops re-orient their
lines; all are affected by seasonal fluctuations.
Many measures have been adopted by councils, universities, student
unions, the police. Information is made available –
directories of services and telephone help lines, to support students
and residents. Exhortations are made to students to be
responsible neighbours (like the SSHH campaigns promoted by several
unions). The National HMO Lobby advocates a simple Community Code:
Say hello, keep the peace, clean up. Direct interventions
are mounted, by the police and wardens, and by university disciplinary
So, the issues are pretty intractable. But even if all students
said hello, and kept the peace, and cleaned
up, would the problems even then be solved? Two recent publications
have surveyed the issue – Universities UK’s Studentification:
a guide (2006), and NUS’s Students
in the Community (2007). Both are useful up to a point,
but neither addresses the basic structural problem: “the replacement
and/or displacement of established residents with a transient, generally
young and single, social grouping” (UUK Guide). Both
reports tackle only the symptoms which arise – not the underlying
cause of these effects, demographic imbalance. An example:
in one quarter-square-mile of 72 streets in Headingley in Leeds,
with a population of 10,000, students outnumber residents by two-to-one.
The loss of a balanced community is the real problem posed by
studentification. A community polarised towards youth and transience
is fundamentally destructive of sustainability. It replaces the
older generations who preserve the community’s history, the
adults who maintain it, and most seriously, the children who are
its future. It disrupts the social networks on which ‘community
spirit’ (or social capital) depend. And not least, it demoralises
the resident rump – ‘aliens’ in their own neighbourhood.
It is an indictment of HE policy that such situations have been
allowed to develop, leaving those involved struggling to cope with
the consequences. Leeds and Nottingham, for instance, have set up
multi-agency groups, comprising council and community, university
and students, and landlords. They can pursue housing policies, especially
licensing of HMOs (shared houses) as provided by the Housing Act
2004. They can pursue planning policies – areas of restraint
and thresholds for HMOs can be used to resist demand in occupied
areas, while promotion of purpose-built accommodation (suitably
sited) can ease demand and redirect it to different locations. But
local authorities are hamstrung by their limited powers. Fundamentally,
we need the government to give HEIs the resources to accommodate
their students, and local authorities the powers to protect their
communities. The National HMO Lobby has proposed a Ten
Point Plan to address the basic issue of studentification.
Meanwhile, therefore, residents’ message to students is
not only, love they neighbour as thyself, but also (much
as we might love you), leave our neighbourhood alone!
NB the text was slightly edited for publication.
National HMO Lobby