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Housing victory for York university Student Socialist Society
Jamie Chatfield, treasurer of York university Student Socialist Society
On 24 October, the University of York Student Socialist Society celebrated a significant referendum victory after months of campaigning on the quality and price of housing in York.
Starting the campaign in February with petitions calling for improvements on a wide range of housing issues effecting students in York, the society decided to focus on the issue that struck a chord with the majority of students: the establishment of a not-for-profit letting agency run by York University Students' Union (YUSU) in an attempt to break the power that private agencies have over the off-campus student housing market in York.
Over the course of three terms members of the Socialist Society spoke to thousands of supportive students and gathered over 800 signatures from students who were enthused and inspired by the ideas we put forward.
The committee of the society underwent dialogue with full-time staff and sabbatical officers within YUSU about the proposals, who gave solid support for the idea before the motion went to referendum in October.
The allotted week of referendum campaigning was also incredibly successful. Hundreds of posters, thousands of leaflets as well as other campaign literature were given to students across the week and support from various societies and clubs on campus was offered, with one publication even creating a special issue for us backing our ideas.
However, the popularity of the campaign is best demonstrated by the fact that no official 'No' campaign against the motion was launched!
In the end, the victory was a landslide, with 1,086 students voting in favour of the proposals to 117 against.
Not only did this motion have the highest turnout of the five proposed in that round of votes, but it was also the widest margin of victory, and the most 'Yes' votes polled on any issue by far.
This demonstrates that campaigns on issues that students care about create real enthusiasm and gather real support if societies focus on them.
The implications of this victory could be massive for students and even long-term residents in the York area.
A not-for-profit letting agency could reduce the price of rented houses under its control, but also create a competitive environment that causes both other agencies and university accommodation services to lower their prices, as rising university rents discourage returning students to live on campus beyond their first year.
This is not the end of the campaign, however. Megan Ollerhead, chair of the society, says:
"Obviously we're thrilled with the result, but the work isn't over yet - in fact this victory merely paves the way for us to effect further change.
"We're looking at a number of different directions to pursue in order to build on the momentum of the campaign, for instance looking at working with York council on creating a mandatory accreditation scheme for landlords, to address some of the worst housing conditions in the city; but also, to tackle the issue of on-campus rent, which is set to sky-rocket following a proposal to demolish some cheaper university accommodation and replace it with a £400 million PFI project.
"I hope the gains we've made encourage other societies to look into achieving something like this on their campuses, as it could be potentially seismic for the student housing market on a national level".