By Natasha Livingstone
A Durham Tenants’ Union seeking to tackle issues such as increasing rent, disrepair and “rogue landlords” in the city is being supported by the Students’ Union.
In conjunction with national anti-poverty group, ACORN, the union will organise campaigns while lobbying politicians and the University to demand change. The group were gathering signatures at the Refreshers’ Fair on 17th January for a housing petition to be put to the Government, as well as collecting housing ‘horror stories’ from fellow students.
With regards to the initiative, Welfare and Liberation Officer, Rosa Tallack, stated: “We need a tenants’ union in Durham because we’re more powerful when we come together as a collective – and the truth is that is even greater when faced with a broad, systemic problem like housing.
“A powerful tenants’ union would give us the opportunity to re-address the balance of power between landlords and tenants – the same power imbalance that leaves so many tenants insecure, ill, exploited and vulnerable. This has to change. A tenants’ union would also bring together students and settled residents as one community to fight poor housing conditions together.”
According to statistics presented by ACORN, only 15% of Durham students would recommend their accommodation to a friend or family member, while only 29% of Durham students found the University accommodation ‘value for money’.
The English Housing survey has revealed that, nationally, 29% of privately rented properties fail the Government’s decent home standard.
Furthermore, a report into Safe and Decent Homes found that six out of ten UK renters experienced damp, mould, leaks, infestations or gas & electric hazards within a 12 month period.
To exacerbate the housing issue, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) report that rent is increasing by 1.5% annually.
Over 12 million people rent accommodation in the UK and the majority of renters are under 45. Living in substandard housing has been shown to correlate with an increase in the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, in addition to higher rates of anxiety and depression.
The Durham Tenants’ Union is a branch of the national organisation ACORN. The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show recently reported that ACORN is “building an army to wage war on bad landlords.”
They have local societies all over the country, with Sussex University’s ACORN branch hosting a rent strike in December, to protest against poor accommodation in university halls. ACORN describe themselves as “friends, families and neighbours. We are tenants, workers and citizens, fighting for equality.”
Durham’s recently elected NUS delegate, Tom Harwood, responded to the news on Twitter. In a series of tweets aimed directly at the Students’ Union, Mr Harwood described ACORN as a “militant organisation” which, he claims, “promotes disastrous and discredited policy (sic) like rent controls.”
The former president of the Union Society then went on to openly question the priorities of the Students’ Union: “On housing I really wish that Durham’s Students’ Union would prioritise working with organisations like Shelter who put policy before Politics, instead of getting into bed with union thugs who promote economically illiterate changes that would make all students’ lives worse.”
There will be an Open Meeting held by the Union on 1st February 2018 to plan campaigns and elect leadership positions. The positions available are Chair, External Affairs and Communications officer.
If you wish to stand for one of these roles at the first general meeting, email firstname.lastname@example.org by 30 January. To stand, you will need to prepare a one-minute statement sharing why you wish to be elected to the role. Students can also email email@example.com to express an interest in the union.
Photograph: ACORN Durham