During our time as students, every one of us must grapple with the London housing market. I still shudder when I think of all the drama and stress surrounding my last round of house hunting. A home is a right and an essential; unfortunately there seems to be a culture of taking advantage in London. Over the last year as DPW I’ve heard countless stories of students being taken for a ride by dodgy landlords and unscrupulous letting agents, all because there’s some money to be made from a desperate person. Unfortunately a disproportionate number of these stories come from International and EU students.
I’m not about to try and explain what it’s like to be an International or EU student, I’m not going to pretend that I have some deep understanding of that experience or act like I’ve been in that position. All I can really do is empathise.
There is plenty of evidence that foreign nationals are discriminated against by the housing market. A charity in West London is currently undertaking research showing that landlords discriminate against people with non-British accents, and research by one of my predecessors found that International students at Imperial felt that they were discriminated against and taken advantage of when searching for housing in the private sector. There could be a whole series of blog posts detailing why this is absolutely not acceptable.
An additional barrier to renting for International students is that often students need to provide a guarantor, someone who takes on responsibility for the rent in case they can’t pay at any point. This person usually has to be UK based and have an annual income above a certain threshold. This is generally very straightforward for a home student - ask your parents to be your guarantor. However for overseas students, if you don’t have family members or close friends in the UK who meet the income requirements, you have no guarantor. There plenty of downsides to not having a guarantor that I could go on about for potentially hours: students turning to rogue landlords to avoid guarantor requirements or students losing large portions of rent due to unforeseen circumstances as examples. I didn’t realise it before I started as DPW last year, but I now see that having a guarantor gives students a lot of protections. Ultimately, with many landlords no guarantor means no tenancy, or the student is forced to pay on average 6 months rent at a time. Unreasonable? I think so. Unfair? I think so.
Fortunately there is now a solution. I have spent almost all of my sabbatical working on this project pretty much alone and I’m quite proud to be able to announce it at last.
This year I developed and proposed a scheme through which the College will be able to act as a guarantor to overseas students. After a few months of research, a few months developing a proposal, and a few months negotiating and refining the proposal with the College it is finally finished. Earlier this month the scheme was accepted by the Provost, James Stirling, and will run as a three year pilot from 2017.
Why can’t the College act as my guarantor this academic year? I hear you cry. Unfortunately something as big as this takes time to set up and takes time to advertise. I’ve always been a big believer in “if you’re going to do it, do it properly”, therefore I’m fully supportive of the College taking time to work in collaboration with the incoming ICU Officer Trustees to implement the scheme and ensure it is the best it can possibly be. All being well the scheme should be up and running in time for the Summer 2017 round of student house hunting.
I’ve identified the problem and developed the solution, now it’s time to leave ‘my baby’ in the capable hands of Nas (President Elect) and Emily-Jane (DPW Elect) who have both shown an interest in taking on the implementation of the project. I look forward to seeing the project that only existed in my head for the best part of a year come to life, and will try not to meddle in the coming year.