Special report by Lola Johnson
DEBATE over ‘studentification’ is rife in Coventry, but what do students including those from overseas think?
And what is their experience like?
Much student housing is not affordable, according to students’ union representatives.
New student blocks have sprung up in the city centre, aimed at catering to the increasing number of students at Coventry University and The University of Warwick.
Two such ongoing projects are being constructed on London Road and on Fairfax Street, both in the city centre.
On Fairfax Street, CODE Student Accommodation – which operates in Leicester and Coventry – has already sold out its self-contained luxury studio flats opening in September.
Council leaders say the increase in student blocks across the city will mean more traditional homes should be available for rent to local families.
Labour councillor Kevin Maton said: “For every six students who live in developments like this, it’s one fewer house converted to a HiMO (home in multiple occupation).”
However, this may not be sufficient for the predicted 7,000-student admission increase at Coventry University in the next five years.
Residents have previously criticised the inadequate quantity of family accommodation and starter homes available in the city.
Mike Parsons, chairman of Cannon Park Community Association, has blamed this on an increase in landlords converting their properties to HiMOs, choosing to rent to students rather than families.
While cash-strapped students do not pay council tax, student landlords who lease to them do not pay council tax either.
Hope Worsdale, the Warwick University Students’ Union president, said: “For large sections of society there is a lack of affordable accommodation and this is a national housing policy issue that requires urgent and imaginative solutions.
“Untrammelled market forces appear be allowing some developers to make very large sums of money out of students.
“Many students do prefer modern, purpose-built student accommodation. However, affordability is a key issue and much of the new accommodation being built is very expensive, cramped and not good value for money.
“Security and safety issues are important and some of our members have been subject to racist and other hate crimes. The Students’ Union is working with the police, local authority and the university to combat this.
“The current student finance system is broken and failing many students. A student from a poor background can end up borrowing £57,000 to fund their studies. “We know some students go without food and heating to make ends meet and that some students are being referred to food banks. Much of the new build private accommodation for students is too expensive and out of reach of many students.
“We need a fairer students funding system and affordable student housing.”
Students at Coventry University have also spoken of the unwelcome atmosphere they have encountered in the city.
“Our neighbour is British, and we got into a situation with her, because she doesn’t like people from other countries,” said 18-year-old Catarino Jacinto, an international student from Portugal.
“It was quite bad and ugly. I feel that the local people in Coventry are reacting to people from universities. To be honest, what is Coventry without its universities? It’s nothing.”
‘When we came in September, there was no-one here,’ 19-year-old Diana Sousa, also from Portugal, reiterated.
“It was like a ghost town. A lot of people living in Coventry are university students.
“The local community must try to be open-minded and engage with not just students, but foreign people too.”
Ms Jacinto was of the same opinion, saying: “The university is expected to grow and I think the local community has to get used to it.
“British people living in Coventry are older than us. They have families and they want a future for their children. At the same time, we are also trying to better our future.
“You have to see the other side of the coin. I am not spending my money in Portugal. I am spending it in Coventry.”
The 18-year-old Business Economics students, however, was not optimistic about the future of student housing in the city.
“We’re students. We don’t have much money. These new buildings mean that there will be more students coming in, so the prices of rent and housing will increase for everyone – not just for students
Human Resources student, Qi Pan, aged 22, also complained about expensive student accommodation in the city.
“I like Coventry and I think the people are very nice.
“I live in a block of flats. I find the accommodation OK, but I think it could be better.
“I think the buildings in Coventry are beautiful, but accommodation is very expensive for students.”
Britain’s housing shortage is affecting students as much as the local community, and student housing needs are not being met in the city.
Hope Worsdale concluded with a more optimistic outlook on the future of student housing in Coventry.
“At a local level we want to see the University, local authorities and other key organisations consult and develop housing policies that are informed by the needs and aspirations of local people and this includes students living in the local community.
“To this end, we have been actively pushing for the university to develop a robust off-campus housing strategy, which would include engagement with the local community, and we will continue to do so going forward.”
STUDENT BLOCK OPERATOR RESPONDS..
A spokesperson for CODE Student Accommodation said: “We think we are at the very affordable end of the market for student apartments in Coventry. Our prices start from £99 per week while other apartment buildings in Coventry often charge much more for student accommodation with prices going up to £200 per week.
“A typical yearly accommodation with CODE will cost a student about £5,000 – £6,000 which guarantees them fabulous ensuite accommodation, gym memberships, communal areas etc. compared to other competition in Coventry.
“CODE Accommodation prices are £99 to £140 per week (Newly built self-contained 1 bedroom luxury studio flats with own kitchen and ensuite.)
“Once completed, the CODE Coventry Complex on Fairfax Street will be the tallest building in Coventry providing single ensuite studio accommodation for nearly 1200 students who will all enjoy being in very close proximity to Coventry University.
“We have sold out our rooms twice over in Coventry with many more people on our waiting list.”
“CODE will be welcoming their first students in September.”
* While living in Coventry’s purpose-built student blocks can rise to above £200 per week, the cost of a student room in a HiMO can be significantly lower, with prices starting from about £55 per week.
But a room in a shared house can also rising to £350 per week and more.
On average, students were spending £3-4,000 a year on housing in 2015 according to a national survey, and house prices have risen since.
Student Loans for maintenance and tuition fees were being supplemented by part-time work by 52 per cent of students, earning an average £3,314.
Full-time students’ average total income during the 2014/15 academic year including any loan for fees was £16,949, according to the government’s Student income and expenditure survey 2014 to 2015, published in March this year.