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Letter to ‘The Financial Times’ (unabridged version) Regarding Speculation in the Student Rental Economy

Sir — on the Monday 19th edition it is written that ‘British banks and insurers are pouring billions into the country’s housing stock as they look to cash in on rising rents and find wealth stores away from the turmoil rippling through the markets‘. Your correspondent adds that financial institutions invested some £2.2 billion into houses and apartments in the Uk during the twelve months to April this year, an increase of some 189% on the year earlier. We do not doubt that this is a sound, if morally abhorrent, investment – rental growth in the UK has been steady throughout the last several years, in spite of the financial crisis, as the country’s housing shortage and sclerotic mortgage market drives up demand for rented accomodation. All of this in spite of the fact that London already had one of the highest rates of median monthly rents in the world.

Your correspondent later writes that ‘One area that has seen a high level of interest by institiutions is student housing‘ with the sector having ‘…swelled during the past few years with universities handing over the leasing and management of their student accomodation to private companies’.

Such a situation, for those renting more generally and for students in particular seems deplorable.Those in the UK rental market already face paying the highest property rents in Europe, some 5% higher than France, the second most expensive. Indeed the UK is the least affordable country in Europe to rent when calculated relative to median earnings, with 15% of gross earnings being spent on rent, compared to 12% in Spain. On top of this London is already Europe’s most expensive city in which to rent, with an average monthly rent of £520. This is for a single person with no dependents.

Within this context it is utterly despicable that pension and insurance funds as well as as private equity buyers are now seeking to cash in further on an evident and growing crisis in theUK rental market. It is even more disturbing that they are striving to be particularly parasitic on students who already face having to pay rent of  as much as £200 a week in London. All of which is paid for by debt, the patronage of parents and often, precarious and minimum wage work.

In the United States where, just last month, student debt surpassed that of credit card debt at $1 trillion, student fees are being securitized and repackaged exactly like the toxic assets that triggered the latest economic collapse. Just as in 2008 ‘it was subprime mortgages; now it is subprime education‘ as Ananya Roy says. Andrew McGettigan has written with great clarity and sincerity that we can anticipate a wholly similar ‘funding’ system imposing itself in the United Kingdom within the short to medium term.

Two years ago our friends in the United States wrote how, “…the arriving freshman is treated as a mortgage, and the fees are climbing. She is a future revenue stream, and the bills are growing. She is security for a debt she never chose, and the cost is staggering. Her works and days are already promised away to raise up buildings that may contribute nothing to her education, and that she may not be allowed to use — buildings in which others will work for less than a living wage, at peril of no wage at all. This is the truth of the lives of students, the lives of workers (often one and the same).”

While we were fully aware of changes in funding UK higher education and the insidious ideology informing such change, which can only lead to the inexorable destruction of Higher Education institutions as we currently know them in the United Kingdom, this new development, of actors such as pension funds and hedge funds now seeking to further profit from our misery as participants within the student rental economy is, although not surprising, is contemptuous and reprobate. Money may not smell but one can not help but think of the stench of shit when ruminating on the motivations and ‘principles’ of such institutions.
Consequently we would like to draw the attention of those university institutions, particularly those within the University of London (UOL) of which we are students and graduates, namely SOAS, Birkbeck, UCL, Royal Holloway and KCL – to this issue. As the article itself points out ‘The sector has swelled during the past few years with universities handing over the leasing and management of their student accomodation to private companies’. 

While we fully appreciate that problems in the UK and London rental market are deep and pronounced for both students and indeed just about everyone else – we believe that in light of continued speculation by the very biggest players, pension funds and private equity buyers it is of the upmost importance that Universities within the UOL bring such housing services ‘back in house’. Should they fail to do so we will be left with little choice but to initiate a campaign of direct action against those private companies invested with the responsibility of ‘managing’ (ergo exploiting) our housing needs and will utilize every tool that is in our dispensation, including, if it is possible, organising rent strikes among students to remediate this increasingly untenable situation.

Letter of Support for the Bloomsbury Social Centre

Dear SOAS Management,

We the undersigned believe that the Bloomsbury Social Centre represents a bright and necessary contrast to the market structures currently being imposed across UK Higher Education. It has been in existence now for three weeks. In that time it has helped to organise towards the 30 November Strike, organised tenants’ rights workshops, and co-ordinated with student occupations in Birmingham and Cambridge. It has hosted seminars and readings groups on the financial crisis, initiated Spanish classes to aid students campaigning alongside migrant workers, screened political cinema, housed temporarily homeless students, provided meeting space for fellow trade unionists, and – in general – has tried to push forward the struggle for better conditions of life both in this area and beyond it; both in the University and outside.

It is unreasonable and unjust to proceed with an eviction against students who are struggling to improve the education and conditions of life for their peers and their neighbours. The occupiers are willing to negotiate an exit in early January, which will allow them to complete their organising projects, and which will obviate the need for an expensive and potentially violent eviction. We urge you in the strongest possible terms to begin a process of negotiation with the Social Centre. There are political as well as monetary costs at stake.

Sandy Nichol, SOAS Unison branch chair

Graham Dyer, SOAS UCU President

James Meadway, SOAS SU Postgraduate Students’ Officer

Lucy Duncan, SOAS, Postgraduate student

Lukas Slothuus, LSE SU Welfare Officer

Mark Campbell, UCU National Executive Committee

Sean Wallis,  UCL UCU chair

Mend Alusi, Goldsmiths/SOAS

Tomas Weber

James Jardine, Warwick

Alberto Toscano, Senior lecturer, Goldsmiths college,

Aadam Sparks, student, University of Bradford

Sean Bonney, poet

Dr Geoff Williams, Humanities Dept., Imperial College London

Lewis Bassett, The Haircut Before The Party

Marina Vishmidt, Queen Mary University of London, UCU

Benedict Seymour, Lecturer in Fine Art, Goldsmiths

Dr Andrew McGettigan

Michael O’Donoghue

Dr Simon Pirani, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies

Mary Hallam, Sheffield

Nat Raha, Doctoral student, University of Sussex

Robyn Minogue, Camberwell College of Art

Deborah Scordo Mackie, University of East London

Lorna Finlayson, Junior Research Fellow, King’s College, Cambridge

Ollie Evans, Birkbeck Phd

Alice Diamond

Simon Deville, UNISON Secretary Birkbeck, University of London

Simon Hayward, MSc, Birkbeck College, University of London

Daniel Barrow, postgrad student, Birkbeck

Edd Bauer VP Education Univeristy of Birmingham Guild of Students

Jo Holoway, IHOOPS

Maria Carolina Olarte, Doctoral Student, Birkbeck College

Svenja Bromberg, PhD Student, Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths College

Avigail Moss, Doctoral student, UCL

Cameron Bain, UCL SSEES Library

Ashok Kumar, St. Johns College, Oxford

Dr Isabelle Fremeaux, Senior Lecturer, Birkbeck College, University of London

Simon Hewitt, Department of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, London

Georgina Saad, camden resident

Konstancjamary Duff, tutor in political philosophy, Birkbeck College

Paul Rekret, lecturer, QMUL

Naomi Bain, Unison chair, Birkbeck college (in personal capacity)

Lettice Drake, Practice Architecture

Naomi Colvin, Occupy LSX (personal capacity)

Pete Mills

Isabeau Doucet, Goldsmiths

Lucrezia Lennert, doctoral student, UCL

Anna Haslock

Richard Thomas, Content Manager/News Editor, Resonance FM

Pauline van Mourik Broekman, Editor, Mute Magazine

Anthony Davies, Editor, Mute Magazine

Luisa Lorenza Corna, Goldsmiths University, London / Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht

Robert Kiely

Dr Thanos Zartoloudis, Senior Lecturer in Law, Birkbeck

Justin Katko PhD, English, Queens’ College, Cambridge

Máiréad Enright, University of Kent – Lecturer in Law

Jonny Jones, Deputy Editor, International Socialism

Michael Chessum, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and NUS NEC (pc)

Francesca Lisette

Martin Nickolay-Blake

Hannah Forbes Black, Goldsmiths/Royal College of Art

Kirsten Forkert, Postdoctoral Lecturing Fellow, University of East Anglia

Sophie Carapetian, Goldsmiths

Tanya Singh

Rahwa Fessahaye, Detention Action

Ali Osman Göksel, Goldsmiths

Sidsel Meineche Hansen

Stef Newton, UCLU LGBT officer and NCAFC LGBTO officer

Scott Wakeham, Birkbeck

Emma Elisabeth Leigh, SOAS

Rory Rowan, Royal Holloway, University of London

Michal Jaworski, University of Westminster

Josh Stanley

Musab Younis, Wadham College, Oxford

Susan Cook, LMU LGBT President, London Met

Edward Maltby, NCAFC National Committee

Vanessa Buth, PSI postgrad, UEA

Bozena Harvey

Justine Cal

Joshi Sachdeo, NUS NEC, Vice-Chair Birkbeck Students’ Union Executive Committee

Nicola Goodchild, Kingston University Postgraduate, CRMEP

Dr Richard Hall, Reader in Education and Technology, De Montfort University

Morten Thaysen Laurberg, MA in Social Anthropology of Development at SOAS

Dr Laura Robertson, Imperial College

James Westcott, OMA, Rotterdam

Edwin Clifford-Coupe, UCL

Tarek Salhany

Rachel Baker

Yasmin Begum

Alejandra Crosta, Spanish Lecturer, Birkbeck College

Nick Martindale

Mark Brown, W11

Dr Laura Salisbury, RCUK Fellow in Science, Technology, and Culture, English Dept., Birkbeck, University of London

Louise Reynolds

Lois Clifton, Environment and Ethics officer LSESU

Soo Tian Lee, doctoral student, Birkbeck

Julia Bard, Jewish Socialist magazine

John Ledger

Aaron Kiely, NUS National Executive, NUS Black Students’ Campaign

Jesse Oldershaw, UCL UCU rep

Mark Thomas, student, SOAS

Craig Gent, Campaigns Officer, Students’ Union Royal Holloway, University of London

SUNDAY NIGHT FILM SCREENING

On Sunday at 8.30p.m we’ll be showing ‘The Year of the Beaver’:

“This film is partly about the famous Grunwick dispute in north London in 1976-78, in which a mostly female Asian workforce were locked out for demanding union recognition and gained, mostly symbolic, support from vast numbers of unionised workers. But it’s about a lot more than that. It’s about workers’ struggles in the UK in general, and it attempts to understand what was happening in terms of the balance of class forces and to criticise the traditional assumptions of the Left. It’s a great film because so much of it is devoted to what workers actually did and what workers have to say. There are no interviews with union leaders, politicians or industrial relations experts. And it’s aesthetically well put together, and with a sense of grim humour.”

_

Kill your hot desk.

Image

 

A quick announcement to all students, official or unofficial, insurgent or contemplative, Bloomsbury-based and/or international: today we set up an excellent quiet study space on the third floor of the building, in a large seminar room which catches the sun and offers (as estate agents everywhere would love to say) excellent views out over Gordon Square. Come by to do some reading in an environment more lovely than the hell cubicle your rapacious University makes available to you! (Stay for dinner and political conversation.)

Solidarity,

Bloomsbury Social Centre

THIS WEEK AT THE BLOOMSBURY SOCIAL CENTRE

Everyday: 11am meeting; 8pm Dinner + politics chat

SUNDAY // Workshops
1pm >> Letter writing to protest prisoners
4pm >> Conflict resolution
5pm >> Practical squatting

MONDAY // Preparing for the strike! + Workfare meeting
All day >> meet at 7.30am, 12noon and 4.30pm
to flyer at schools, unis and tube stations
7pm >> Workfare meeting
6pm >> Banner and placard making for the strike
meet at 6pm, going on till closing (midnight)

TUESDAY // Preparing for the strike! + Women’s meeting
All day >> meet at 7.30am, 12noon and 4.30pm
to flyer at schools, unis and tube stations
6pm >> Banner and placard making for the strike
meet at 6pm, going on till closing (midnight)
7pm >> WOMEN’S MEETING

WEDNESDAY // Strike day
6am >> Flying picket, bringing the fight to the pickets that need it most
9am >> Picket lines at SOAS and UCL
12noon >> Teach-out at Torrington Place
4pm >> Zombie picket at Birkbeck
6pm >> Picket lines at Birkbeck (evening classes)

Statement from the Bloomsbury Social Centre

bloomsburysocialcentre@gmail.com

At 10.30am on Wednesday 23rd November, students, workers and residents from across Bloomsbury occupied a disused University property. From today, 53 Gordon Square will be renamed the Bloomsbury Social Centre.

The building has been empty for three years, subject to a legal dispute over its ownership. One of the claimants, the School of Oriental and African Studies, has this year announced that the property is to be redeveloped as a new post-graduate centre. Concurrently, it has announced the appointment of a new dean of post-graduate studies, one of whose perks will be a luxury apartment in the top-floor of the building.

SOAS management are perhaps ignorant of the context in which 53 Gordon Square was left vacantly to rot. Since 2008, the recession has been steadily worsening. House prices have remained unaffordable, living costs for ordinary people have continued to rise, and desperately needed public space has been made over to Big Retail at fire sale prices.

We don’t need any more luxury apartments, any more than we need new senior managers to live in them. The Bloomsbury Social Centre will instead be a real community resource: the material instrument required to build for the November 30th strike. Students, workers and local people are all invited to use it.

We entered through the main door at about 11 a.m., without being blocked. Only SOAS management have raised any dispute on this point. Remember that this is the same institution which in past months has allowed security and police to assault its own students and staff at what would otherwise have been peaceful protests. This morning we were intimidated by CIS security guards; in the afternoon we were intimidated by police, who have tried to smash down doors and made threats of arrests.

Our experience today is akin to (but it is also just a taster of) what communities subject to austerity are everywhere now forced to confront. It is because they confront it — because they must — that austerity policing has everywhere intensified.

In Bloomsbury the recession has been used as an excuse to stagnate wages, casualise employment, and to impose redundancies. It has been used further to separate workers, residents and students. Things have to change. Empty buildings wait across our city. We take heart from the action of Occupy movements around the world, the resistance to austerity measures in Greece, and the militant workers’ movement which is pushing forward the revolutions in Egypt and beyond.

In solidarity,

The Bloomsbury Social Centre