In January, the then Students’ Union officer for Welfare and Community, Brian Alcorn, told the student council that an Article Four direction – a measure to cap the number of houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs), often used as houses for students, young professionals, and graduates – was “unlikely to happen” in Lincoln.
Yet at the end of last week, City of Lincoln Council announced they were carrying out a consultation over how to control the proportion of HMOs in the city, and whether implementing an Article Four direction would be a sensible idea.
Now the SU President, Brian explained what had happened since the start of the year to make the possibility of an Article Four direction a recurring issue.
“What’s happened since January is that council elections have taken place, meaning local ward councillors have changed their stance towards houses of multiple occupancy and the Article Four direction,” he claimed. “On top of that, some local residents in the West End have circulated a petition – during the summer months, I’d highlight, when students aren’t around – but still a petition that got over a thousand signatures, which was then brought to a City of Lincoln Council meeting.”
This petition triggered a full consultation process, which will last until October 24 and will accept written comments from students, graduates, residents, organisations, and anyone else with concerns about HMOs.
Brian confirmed that the Students’ Union would be one of the establishments submitting a written representation. “We are opposed to an Article Four direction, not only in terms of student accommodation, but also in terms of the greater economic impact on the city. Lincoln is starting to become an attractive city for young professionals to come and work in; it’s growing economically and there are closer partnerships with large, national firms.”
He mentions this from a personal perspective, as a recent Lincoln graduate, as well as in his professional Students’ Union voice. “I’m a young professional now, so after my term ends this year, I’d ideally like to stay in Lincoln and find a job and work here. Now, I’m wondering whether I’ll be able to find accommodation and whether it’ll be affordable – because if demand goes up [but the supply stays the same], then the cost will go up.
“Lincolnshire, in comparison to the rest of the UK, is pretty low on the pay scale, so for Lincoln to be an attractive place, you need to get things just right. The wage isn’t quite there, although things are beginning to change, but accommodation is still an issue.”
The impact would likely also be spread across the city too, not just in the West End, he warned. “Indications from the council were that if a direction were to be implemented it would be citywide. Therefore, I’d consider 1,000 [petitioners] for the entire city of Lincoln to be quite small.
“Plus, I would predict that if an Article Four direction was to be implemented, there’d be a sudden rush to convert properties into HMOs. All of a sudden, you’re going from a number that residents already seem to consider too much, then – very quickly – to a lot more than that.”
The council have already formulated a long-term plan that could combat this, it was revealed in an interview with The Linc last week. Councillor Neil Murray said the “strategy is to make sure that there is enough specialised housing such as halls available in Lincoln so the pressure is not too great on the regular market.
“A reduction of shared housing units in Lincoln will not reduce the overall level of accommodation available as building of student flats are on track.”
However, Brian believes that this suggests a “ghettoisation of students”, who are just one of the groups that populate HMOs alongside young professionals, migrant workers, and those on low incomes.
“I think students want to be part of the community, and having residents say ‘why can’t they go and live in their own accommodation, just for students?’ is not very welcoming.
“The work which the SU and students, who have led and shaped our strategy, have done is choosing to engage more with the wider community. I think that has, by and large, been very, very positive. The West End Residents’ Association and local business owners have actually fed back to us that there’s been a noted difference in community relations.”
He also sees other flaws in the strategy. “In terms of real estate there’s limited space around the city centre area. I’m not a businessman, but I would imagine there’s also costs in terms of building, construction, and setting the price – and halls of residence do tend to be more expensive than private housing, and I think that’s why students tend to opt for renting in the private sector after their first year.”
What, then, is his solution to the growing tensions about HMOs, that led to over 1,000 residents feeling the need to take action? When originally discussed at student council, a “landlord licensing scheme” was suggested as an alternative, something which Brian continues to back.
It would be different to the existing accreditation scheme for student housing, which is run by the University of Lincoln and is optional for landlords. The proposed scheme could be run by the city council and be mandatory for all landlords in the city, Brian tells me, although the details would be subject to the results of the current consultation.
“We’ve received confirmation from the council that they’d be welcoming student union input into that; not only ours, but BGSU [the Students’ Union at Bishop Grosseteste University] up the hill as well,” he enthuses, the first time that the SU would have input into such a scheme, after years of discussions with the university.
Looking to the immediate future, Brian concluded: “We’ll be bringing an update to the next student council and asking students to engage in the consultation period and to offer their feedback to us, which will help shape our response to the proposal – and please do come down and support the meetings by attending and expressing their views.”
The issue will next be discussed with the City of Lincoln Council at a meeting of the Policy Scrutiny Committee on November 12. The meeting will be held at City Hall on Beaumont Fee and is open for anyone to attend, although those who wish to speak are asked to let the council know in advance to assist with planning.
To submit a written statement to the consultation on Article Four directions, email firstname.lastname@example.orgTweet