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Campaign group fights for more affordable housing on campus

East Slope, one of the oldest and the cheapest living spaces on campus is due to be demolished in the academic year 2012-2013, driving up the average rent on campus.

The university stated that: “In the long term we aim to provide housing for around 40% of students at Sussex.”

As a result of the change in the accommodation, a campaign called ‘Hope Beyond the Slope’ has emerged to try and provide an equivalent replacement on the university campus.

Cameron Tait, President of the Students Union, and Jo Goodman, Welfare Officer for the union, are at the helm of the campaign.

According to the research and analysis done by Cameron Tait and other union officers “the addition of Northfields and the removal of East Slope will mean the average weekly rent for a single room in Sussex will go up from £99 to £107, leaving the national sector average of £98.99 [Unipol/NUS Accommodation Costs Survery] well behind.”

The research shows that an en-suite bathroom adds £22 per week to the rent of a university-managed room. However the university points out that the “main cost of construction is to do with the size of bedrooms and communal space, rather than whether rooms are en-suite or not.”

The university also emphasised the necessity of replacing older accommodations “when it has come to the end of its life span” and that the maintenance cost of East Slope now outweighs that which the university receives in rent.

The campaign, which started in January, has “picked up a lot of momentum” according to Tait.

The Facebook group that has been set up as part of the campaign is now full of personal accounts on why East Slope was so fundamental to people’s lives at Sussex; both in terms of affordability and the social environment it encourages.

Many students agree with what one person described as “the community you build up from living in such a close knit space”.

Some of the Facebook messages on the page include: “Living at East Slope was the best experience I had at university. I lived with 12 people and am still friends with all of them”, “East slope isn’t just accommodation. It’s a way of life!”

Cameron Tait said: “Being an ex-East Slope resident myself, I will be sad to see it go, but the university has decided that it is now so structurally defective that it can not go on for much longer”.

The university is currently drawing up a picture of what will replace it in a couple of years’ time.

Tait added: “This is why it is so important that we make the argument for cheap, affordable and social accommodation that occupies the position that East Slope currently does.” He also points out the importance of making time for and taking steps to attract and support students from ‘lower income backgrounds’.

Tait and other union officers also hope the university will provide low-cost accommodation as part of a wider scheme to do what it can to alleviate, according to Cameron, the government’s “regressive” higher education fee-rises.

The University of Sussex will be expected to set out how it will widen access and recruit more students from under-represented groups and affordable housing is a vital part of this expectation.

Alongside collating personal accounts and researching different studies on university-managed accommodation, the full-time union officers have been lobbying key university contacts with their arguments.

The university has pointed out that they are open to discuss the plans with the Students’ Union on a yearly basis but they “are not even at the design stage yet.”

Upon the opening of Northfield, the Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing referred to the campaign and pledged to provide “reasonably priced” accommodation in the next step of accommodation development.

Tait also stressed the importance of making sure “the university takes this one step further and provides genuinely affordable accommodation on campus.”

Future plans have been discussed with both the facilities management team and the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group.

To join the group visit: www.facebook.com/hopebeyondtheslope

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