Goldsmiths students protest against increased rents and poor living standards

A student-led demonstration was held on Wednesday, to fight the ongoing problems faced by Goldsmiths students with their accommodation.

Organised by Goldsmiths Housing Action (GHA), a group run by undergraduate and postgraduate students alike, the protest aimed to raise awareness of a number of problems people deal with in their halls of residence – and fight for them to be put right.

Clementine Boucher, who is a part of GHA and acted as the afternoon’s chief spokesperson, said: “Our main aim is to achieve something, with the limited resources that we have, and make sure that the institution we participate in everyday actually stands up, takes responsibility for their actions and doesn’t become involved in social cleansing.”

Ms Boucher, who is studying at Goldsmiths for an MA in Cultural Studies, also said that GHA is struggling to get the recognition from the university that it so desperately needs, because “they seem to enjoy putting barriers up in every group’s path – especially bureaucratic ones.”

Students at Goldsmiths have been reporting issues with their halls “for years”, Ms Boucher said, with complaints detailing concerns such as “rodent infestation, sewage leaks and ceiling collapses.”

Eryn Martin, a first year at the liberal arts college who lives in Chesterman House, one of its halls of residence, said: “My main issue is with security – which is nothing compared to some of the other problems people face in different blocks.”

Martin said the staff at Chesterman House have a “complete lack of respect for students” when issues are voiced.

A key objective of the demonstration was to fight the ongoing privatisation of student accommodation, which Goldsmiths has been privy to over the past few years.

By introducing Campus Living Villages (CLV), Ms Boucher said rents have not only been allowed to “skyrocket”, but Goldsmiths can – and have been allowed to “take a back seat” when it comes to all student complaints, because the halls “are no longer in-house.”

The cost of living in halls such as Surrey House has increased from £111 per week in 2013/14, to £162 per week in 2018/19; in Chesterman House, rent now costs £187 per week, compared to £133 in 2013/14.

As well as the de-privatisation of halls, GHA also demand that rent in student halls be cut to 50% of the average London maintenance loan, Goldsmiths resolve existing faults, compensate students for affected by poor housing conditions and improve all halls of residence conditions, so they meet Shelter’s “Living Home Standard”.

Ms Boucher said “We’ll continue to make them hear us by disrupting open days, intensifying our actions and doing whatever it takes to make them listen.”

In the past, the university has been known to gift students £50 vouchers instead of paying them back for issues which affected their standard of living.

A spokesperson for Goldsmiths said: “We understand housing in London can be a real issue which is why we offer some of the most affordable halls accommodation in London – with rooms starting at £118 a week inclusive of bills, contents insurance and WiFi. Nine out of ten rooms are below the average price for London student accommodation.

“Without the agreement with CLV these halls would not have been extended and extensively refurbished to meet the needs of students. CLV has spent £12m on this work since 2016, money that the College does not have at its disposal.”

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